Biology’s ‘breadboard’


Our brain, which is called the most complex thing in the universe, have 86 billion neurons with trillions of yet-unmapped connections. Understanding how the brain works is difficult problem which has afflicted the mankind for millennia. But this new study can offer the solution for the psychiatric disorders that made many people to suffer. To understand the brain, a roundworm, C elegans, is good model because it has only 302 neurons, which were completely mapped, with 6,000 connections. It looks like circuit board of biology. Although the brain has simple structure, it forms from simple reactions like searching for food and learning to avoid venom to complex reactions such as social behaviors.

The subject which says understanding this simple system will bring a development of understanding human brain was published on December 26, 2016, in Nature Methods.

Specifically, the idea of breadboards which help adding and correcting circuit elements in electrical and computer engineering is utilized in biology. In order to understand how the neural circuits in brains generate behavior, scientists need to control the activity of neurons as their needs. To do this, researchers have developed robust tools (transgenic actuators), that use drugs or light to activate or silence the neurons in which they are expressed.

Navin Pokala, Ph.D., assistant professor of Life Sciences at New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) College of Arts and Sciences, adapted the GAL4-UAS system for expressing transgenes in the nematode C elegans with researchers at Caltech university. This system, which uses a gene regulatory proteins from yeasts, greatly reduces the time and cost for making new cell-actuator combinations by simply mating already-constructed animals.

Pokala and his collaborators are planning to experiment variations of the GAL4-UAS system to control expression of actuator gene more precisely. Transgenic animal construction allows systematic change of the cells in the nervous system. It allows Pokala and colleagues to build a database linking neural perturbations to behaviors. As it combined with the previously mapped circuit wiring, this database will be a valuable resource for developing and testing models of nervous system function.




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