Bonn, October 1st, 2019. caesars scientific spectrum is continuously expanding. The latest research group to commence its work at caesar will be the lab of Dr. Monika Scholz, under the title “Neural Information Flow”. Dr. Scholz comes to Bonn from Princeton university, examining the nervous system of the roundworm C.elegans.
Between 2008 and 2012, Scholz studied physics in Würzburg and Dresden. In 2017, she obtained her PhD in biophysics at the renowned University of Chicago. Afterwards, she continued her research as a Dicke Fellow at Princeton University. Her work at caesar is a continuation of her previous research on C.elegans and focuses on the basic principles of information transfer and processing in the nervous system of animals.
Simple brain structure provides answers on fundamental questions
Neuronal networks, both artificial and biological, serve important functions: They assist with pathfinding in autonomous cars, enable the formation of memories and control movement. The aim of neuroscience is to understand how the most complex of these networks, the human brain, solves such tasks. Since the number of human neurons is exceedingly vast (ca. 100 billion), simpler model organisms must be used in the laboratory. But - thanks to the power of evolution - the strategies employed by a fish or a worm can resemble those of a rat or a human. Experiments with simple animals may unveil fundamental principles of neural network function.
In focus: the integration of different behavior
C.elegans was established as a model organism 50 years ago by Nobel laureate Sidney Brenner. The worms feed on bacteria and microorganisms, which they forage for in their environment. This foraging behavior is particularly suitable to study how neural networks coordinate behaviors:If a worm detects food, it slows and commences to feed. By doing so, the brain of the worm has to integrate information of various kinds, such as the quantity and quality of food and its present speed. The feeding behavior is controlled by a very small circuit of only 20 neurons. These ‘feeding’ neurons have to communicate with the neurons that control movement. For a researcher, this provides an opportunity to observe and examine the transfer of information inside the worm brain. Since the worm is transparent, its neurons can be labeled with fluorescent proteins, which glow when the neuron is active. As the architecture of the brain of C.elegans is well documented, the data can then be interpreted, integrating it into models of information transfer and control within the worm brain. These models, ideally, point to fundamental principles: how the brain coordinates behavior and differentiates between important and unimportant information.