How Does a Worm Feed?

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Rita Droste, Nikhil Bhatla

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This is a 3-dimensional reconstruction of the feeding organ of the roundworm C. elegans, showing the muscles and neurons of the pharynx.  Each cell is shown in a different color.  Since the worm is so simple, we are able to identify each cell across individual worms, such that each colored cell has a unique name. Food enters at the top and is pushed down to the bottom, where it goes into the intestine.  All of these cells work together to coordinate the muscle movements of feeding. Some of these neurons detect the worm's environment and even transform swallowing into spitting.

We study how the worm's feeding organ is controlled by environmental stimuli such as light.  Understanding how each neuron connects, or synapses, with other cells helps to generate hypotheses for how neural circuits control feeding behavior. These neural circuits might contain motifs that are also present in the functioning of the human brain.

This image was generated from nearly 1200 serial sections of electron micrographs.