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Creeping and Crawling
11 June 2017

Creeping and Crawling

Perhaps the biggest challenge in neuroscience is figuring out exactly how all the billions of nerve cells in the human brain work together to produce complex behaviours such as walking, talking, thinking and everything else. To keep things simple, researchers have turned to tiny nematode worms, known as C. elegans, which only have around 300 nerve cells in their tiny, transparent heads – a much more manageable number to cope with. However, worms present their own unique research challenges. For a start, they don’t like to stay still. Using high-powered microscopes combined with sophisticated motion tracking and image analysis software, scientists have finally managed to track individual nerve cells in living, wriggling worms and monitor their activity – shown as the coloured dots in this image of a worm brain. This technique should reveal how different patterns of nerve cell activity spark certain behaviours, such as feeding, wriggling, sleeping or even mating.

Written by Kat Arney

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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