P. pacificus carries out decision making with just 302 neurons

Jay Kakade
C. Elegans and P. pacificus (Left) worm is C. Elegans trying to escape from P. pacificus(right). (Image Credit: Salk Institute)

As greater and deeper analysis of brain can help us to state how does brain work, how it initiates and triggers crucial functions. Coordination is one of the complex features carried out by brain.

But after analysing a predatory worm, researchers found it needs only 302 neurons to carry out decision making.

The predatory worm Pristionchus pacificus is dependent on biting to catch prey. P. Pacificus’s Biting is considered to be a type of complex decision making. Due to this, researchers grasped Pristionchus pacificus to analyse.

Initially, instead of looking at neurons and cells of worm, researchers observed movement of Pristionchus pacificus, its biting capacity and how it reacts to different threats.

They observed, P. pacificus tend to change strategy with arrival of new threats. Researchers chose Caenorhabditis elegans worm as a threat for P. Pacificus, as it is both prey as well as a competitor.

When food is given and exposed to easy targets like C. Elegans – a free living transparent nematode, it chose to bite to kill. But for the adult C. Elegans, worm bite with force to drive it away from food.

This behavioural change in strategy and choice of attacking will tell us how brain works, says a neurologist Sreekanth Chalasani. But after observing their egg laying and behaviour change when bacterial food arrived, researchers claimed attack on C. Elegans was just to drive them away.

This type of complex decision making is seen in vertebrates. But it was not clear whether worms to possess brainpower to determine pros and cons of action.

Neurologist Kathleen Quach said that this study has changed our previous assumption. Earlier it was thought P. pacificus bite competitor with one purpose of killing. But their actions state they have long-term goals.

Though Pristionchus pacificus has only 302 neurons, they still are capable of delivering complex decision. While humans have ore than 80 billion of neurons. Biologically, decision making do not needs high number of neurons to code it.

Just after publishing of the article in Current Biology, new researchers came out with hypothesis that it could help us to teach decisions making to artificial intelligence.

"Our study shows you can use a simple system such as the worm to study something complex, like goal-directed decision-making," says neurobiologist Sreekanth Chalasani from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California.

"We also demonstrated that behaviour can tell us a lot about how the brain works."


Do decision making require large numbers of neurons?

Human have more than 86 billions of neurons and can easily carry out complex decisions. But recent studies of P. pacificus shows, decision making can also be initiated with 302 neurons.

How many neurons do Pristionchus pacificus has?

Pristionchus pacificus has only 302 neurons.


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