Two worms, same brains – but one eats the other



































IF TWO animals have identical brain cells, how different can they really be? Extremely. Two worm species have exactly the same set of neurons, but extensive rewiring allows them to lead completely different lives.












Ralf Sommer of the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Germany, and colleagues compared Caenorhabditis elegans, which eats bacteria, with Pristionchus pacificus, which hunts other worms. Both have a cluster of 20 neurons to control their foregut.












Sommer found that the clusters were identical. "These species are separated by 200 to 300 million years, but have the same cells," he says. P. pacificus, however, has denser connections than C. elegans, with neural signals passing through many more cells before reaching the muscles (Cell, doi.org/kbh). This suggests that P. pacificus is performing more complex motor functions, says Detlev Arendt of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany.












Arendt thinks predators were the first animals to evolve complex brains, to find and catch moving prey. He suggests their brains had flexible wiring, enabling them to swap from plant-eating to hunting.












This article appeared in print under the headline "Identical brains, but one eats the other"


















































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