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Worm-tracking challenge leads to new tool for brain research
Date:10/3/2011

EUGENE, Ore. -- Using new optical equipment, a team of 11 researchers put roundworms into a world of virtual reality, monitored both their behavior and brain activity and gained unexpected information on how the organism's brain operates as it moves.

The new research tracking system -- created in collaboration with Eugene-based Applied Scientific Instrumentation Inc. (ASI) -- should help neuroscientists around the world who use other small organisms, such as fruit flies and zebra fish, in their studies to understand how the central nervous system is tied to behavior, said Shawn R. Lockery, professor of biology and director of the Institute of Neuroscience at the University of Oregon.

In a paper in the online journal PLoS ONE, a publication of the Public Library of Science, researchers detail how the dual camera tool works and how they used it in experiments with freely moving roundworms (Caenorhabditis elegans).

The research team, led by Serge Faumont, a senior research associate in the Institute of Neuroscience, found that certain neurons remain active as roundworms move forward and backward. Researchers had theorized that some neurons would be active when moving forward and then shut down as another set of neurons engaged when the animal reversed.

This basic-level research provides a window in which scientists can explore links between the brain and behavior, how neuronal activity might be organized and how genetic mutations may affect connections more broadly, such as in mental illness in humans, Faumont and Lockery said.

"We want to understand the physical basis of thinking, in particular of consciousness," Lockery said. "But we don't have access to another person's or animal's thoughts directly. The only access we have is through behavior."

The roundworm-human connection is genetically strong, Faumont noted. "Sixty percent of the genome of C-elegans is conserved in humans," he sa
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Contact: Jim Barlow
jebarlow@uoregon.edu
541-346-3481
University of Oregon
Source:Eurekalert

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