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New Study Reveals Worms Perform Complex Math Calculations in Search for Food

Researchers from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem highlight animal brain’s mechanism to translate scent of food and guide the animal towards it.

The research led by Dr. Alon Zaslaver, neurogeneticist at Hebrew University of Jerusalem was published in Nature Communications on July 20, 2018. The team found that a neural cell in the worm picks up the scent of food and sets the animal on a course. The neural cell will remain active, as long as the scent intensity keeps getting stronger and direct the worm to keep moving forward. Furthermore, the cell instructs the worm to stop when the intensity of smell decreases or fades away completely and the animal starts to look for a better path as directed by the neural cell.

The calculation of a better path is carried out by a second neural cell. The calculations are closely based on Waze’s recalculating route function and enables the second cell to derivative the intensity of the odor. The cell thus calculates whether the odor intensity is positive or negative. The cell understands that it is getting further from a source when the cell detects a negative derivative and it then recalculates its route. The cell constantly inputs new scent data and computes to detect whether the current odor intensity is getting stronger or weaker. The findings enable the cell to chart a new path based on new differential measurements. A negative readings direct the worm to chart a new path whereas a positive one will tell it to stay the course. The two-part system of charting a course in the worms that is based on an initial scent measurement is followed by conducting follow up checks. This follow up constantly compares the current data with the original measurement and deduce whether scent intensity numbers are going up or down. This facilitates the worm with a smart and effective method in search for food.