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Worm and Movement: The Wiggle Holds Brain Clues?

Aug 27, 2015 04:51 PM EDT
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Researchers at MRC's Clinical Sciences Centre at Imperial College London developed a tool to analyze a worm's posture as it wiggles, as well as examine how the worm's brain controls its movements, as a release noted.

While scientists can currently gather substantial information about genes associated with movement and about the activity of nerve cells, or neurons, which drive that activity, they still cannot determine how the system works as a whole.

"Worms are a testing ground," Andre Brown, head of the Behavioural Genomics group at the CSC and leader of the research, said in the statement. "We still don't know the best ways to measure behavior. We think that what we learn from studying worms will also help with more complex organisms, and ultimately influence how we measure human behaviors."

In making strides towards this goal, researchers created a library of shapes depicting key postures observed of a small worm. They studied a nematode worm, Caenorhabditis elegans, which moves by bending sections of its body to create a wave of movement. Brown developed an automated camera that takes 30 static images of the worm's shape, or posture, every second to make sure to capture even subtle changes in movement.

The different postures captured were then assigned a number between one and 90, and from that, sequences of postures were represented by a string of numbers. This data can then be related to other studies performed on the worms' genes and neuronal activity, in order to determine any associations between posture, neuronal activity and genes.

This study was recently published in PLOS Biology, and suggests that one day similar methods could be applied to studying humans' behaviors.

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