Scientists Map out the Entire Neural Wiring of an Animal's Nervous System

A complete diagram of an animal's nervous system has been put together by scientists and can help us learn more about how nerve cells in our brains work.
Fabienne Lang
Nerve cellsgeralt/Pixabay

Scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine have put together the complete wiring diagram of the nervous system of an animal. 

In the study, the researchers focused on the roundworm called Caenorhabditis elegans or C. elegans's brains, and have discovered a few differences between the male and female of the species. 


The study was published in Nature journal on Wednesday. 

A major milestone in 'connectomics' field

By putting together the map of the nervous system, the research assists in understanding nerve connections (thus where the term "connectomics" stems from) which are responsible for different human and animal behaviors. 

Dr. Scott Emmons, the study's lead author and professor of Genetics in the Dominick P. Purpura Department of Neuroscience, said, "Structure is always central to biology. The structure of the DNA revealed how genes work, and the structure of proteins revealed how enzymes function. Now, the structure of the nervous system is revealing how animals behave and how neural connections go wrong because of disease."

As we can see, a huge step forward in biology, and "connectomics" in particular. 

Some in the field have speculated that certain neurological and psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia and autism, are due to faulty connections. 

Emmons continued, "Connectomics has the potential to help us understand the basis of some mental illnesses, possibly suggesting avenues for therapy."

How did the team map the neural wiring?

C. elegans or minuscule roundworms, grow to only one millimeter long as fully grown adults.

One thousand cells make up their nervous system with a few hundred neurons. This makes the C. elegans one of the best options for studying the human brain -- which is much more complex, but similar in makeup. 

The roundworm was previously used scientifically when Dr. Sydney Bremmer published a paper on its complete nervous system back in 1986.

However, Bremmer and his team only focused on the "female" hermaphrodite C. elegans, the closest form of female in roundworms, and as everything was done manually, room for error or missing certain aspects remained high. 

Scientists Map out the Entire Neural Wiring of an Animal's Nervous System
Mapping the mind of the worm. Source: Cook et al./Nature

By using Bremmer's premise, Emmons and his team conducted the study on both hermaphrodites and male C. elegans, and used specialized software to complete the entire wiring of the animal's diagram.

Dr. Emmons said, "While the synaptic pathways in the two sexes are substantially similar, a number of the synapses differ in strength, providing a basis for understanding sex-specific behaviors."

He ended by saying, "Since the roundworm's nervous system contains many of the same molecules as the human nervous system, what we learn about the former can help us understand the latter."