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HomeNewsBiologyHow to learn a jellyfish's thoughts

How to learn a jellyfish’s thoughts

Clytia hemisphaerica from the facet. Credit: B. Weissbourd

The human mind has 100 billion neurons, making 100 trillion connections. Understanding the exact circuits of mind cells that orchestrate all of our day-to-day behaviors—comparable to shifting our limbs, responding to concern and different feelings, and so forth—is an extremely advanced puzzle for neuroscientists. But now, basic questions in regards to the neuroscience of habits could also be answered via a brand new and far easier mannequin organism: tiny jellyfish.

Caltech researchers have now developed a type of genetic toolbox tailor-made for tinkering with Clytia hemisphaerica, a sort of jellyfish about 1 centimeter in diameter when absolutely grown. Using this toolkit, the tiny creatures have been genetically modified in order that their neurons individually glow with fluorescent mild when activated. Because a jellyfish is clear, researchers can then watch the glow of the animal’s neural exercise because it behaves naturally. In different phrases, the staff can learn a jellyfish’s thoughts because it feeds, swims, evades predators, and extra, with the intention to perceive how the animal’s comparatively easy mind coordinates its behaviors.

A paper describing the brand new examine seems within the journal Cell on November 24. The analysis was performed primarily within the laboratory of David J. Anderson, Seymour Benzer Professor of Biology, Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for Neuroscience Leadership Chair, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, and director of the Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for Neuroscience.

When it involves mannequin organisms utilized in laboratories, jellyfish are an excessive outlier. Worms, flies, fish, and mice—a number of the mostly used laboratory mannequin organisms—are all extra carefully associated, genetically talking, to 1 one other than any are to a jellyfish. In reality, worms are evolutionarily nearer to people than they’re to jellyfish.

With a brand new genetic toolbox, researchers can view jellyfish neurons as they mild up in actual time. Jellyfish should not have a centralized mind; reasonably, their mind cells (neurons) are distributed in a diffuse web all through the physique. As proven on this video, this examine found that there’s really spatial group to the best way that neurons are activated when the animal is coordinating habits. Credit: B. Weissbourd

“Jellyfish are an important point of comparison because they’re so distantly related,” says Brady Weissbourd, postdoctoral scholar and first writer on the examine. “They let us ask questions like, are there principles of neuroscience shared across all nervous systems? Or, what might the first nervous systems have looked like? By exploring nature more broadly, we may also discover useful biological innovations. Importantly, many jellyfish are small and transparent, which makes them exciting platforms for systems neuroscience. That is because there are amazing new tools for imaging and manipulating using light, and you can put an entire living jellyfish under a microscope and have access to the whole at once.”

Rather than being centralized in a single a part of the physique like our personal brains, the jellyfish mind is subtle throughout the animal’s total physique like a web. The numerous physique elements of a jellyfish can function seemingly autonomously, with out centralized management; for instance, a jellyfish mouth eliminated surgically can keep it up “eating” even with out the remainder of the animal’s physique.

This decentralized physique plan appears to be a extremely profitable evolutionary technique, as jellyfish have endured all through the animal kingdom for tons of of hundreds of thousands of years. But how does the decentralized jellyfish nervous system coordinate and orchestrate behaviors?

After growing the genetic instruments to work with Clytia, the researchers first examined the neural circuits underlying the animal’s feeding behaviors. When Clytia snags a brine shrimp in a tentacle, it folds its physique with the intention to deliver the tentacle to its mouth and bends its mouth towards the tentacle concurrently. The staff aimed to reply: How does the jellyfish mind, apparently unstructured and radially symmetric, coordinate this directional folding of the jellyfish physique?

A jellyfish folds the precise facet of its physique to deliver a tiny brine shrimp to its mouth. Credit: B. Weissbourd

By inspecting the glowing chain reactions occurring within the animals’ neurons as they ate, the staff decided {that a} subnetwork of neurons that produces a selected neuropeptide (a molecule produced by neurons) is answerable for the spatially localized inward folding of the physique. Additionally, although the community of jellyfish neurons initially appeared diffuse and unstructured, the researchers discovered a stunning diploma of group that solely turned seen with their fluorescent system.

“Our experiments revealed that the seemingly diffuse network of neurons that underlies the circular jellyfish umbrella is actually subdivided into patches of active neurons, organized in wedges like slices of a pizza,” explains Anderson. “When a jellyfish snags a brine shrimp with a tentacle, the neurons in the ‘pizza slice’ nearest to that tentacle would first activate, which in turn caused that part of the umbrella to fold inward, bringing the shrimp to the mouth. Importantly, this level of neural organization is completely invisible if you look at the anatomy of a jellyfish, even with a microscope. You have to be able to visualize the active in order to see it—which is what we can do with our new system.”

Weissbourd emphasizes that that is solely scratching the floor of understanding the total repertoire of jellyfish behaviors. “In future work, we’d like to use this jellyfish as a tractable platform to understand precisely how behavior is generated by whole neural systems,” he says. “In the context of food passing, understanding how the tentacles, umbrella, and mouth all coordinate with each other lets us get at more general problems of the function of modularity within nervous systems and how such modules coordinate with each other. The ultimate goal is not only to understand the jellyfish nervous system but to use it as a springboard to understand more complex systems in the future.”

The new mannequin system is simple for researchers anyplace to make use of. Jellyfish lineages may be maintained in synthetic sea water in a lab atmosphere and shipped to collaborators who’re concerned about answering questions utilizing the little animals.

The paper is titled “A genetically tractable mannequin for techniques and evolutionary neuroscience.”

In addition to Weissbourd and Anderson, extra co-authors are Tsuyoshi Momose of Sorbonne Université in France, graduate scholar Aditya Nair, former postdoctoral scholar Ann Kennedy (now an assistant professor at Northwestern University), and former analysis technician Bridgett Hunt. Funding was offered by the Caltech Center for Evolutionary Science, the Whitman Center of the Marine Biological Laboratory, the Life Sciences Research Foundation, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Video: Should you pee on a jellyfish sting?

More info:
Brandon Weissbourd et al, A genetically tractable jellyfish mannequin for techniques and evolutionary neuroscience, Cell (2021). DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2021.10.021

Journal info:

How to learn a jellyfish’s thoughts (2021, November 26)
retrieved 26 November 2021
from https://phys.org/news/2021-11-jellyfish-mind.html

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