Scientists at the California Institute of Technology have genetically engineered jellyfish to watch their brains work. They used translucent jellyfish, Clytia hemisphaerica, about 1 cm in diameter. Scientists observed jellyfish as they ate, swam, and dodged predators to understand how the animal’s relatively simple brain coordinates behavior.
The jellyfish’s brain, unlike the human one, is dispersed throughout the body. Different parts of the body work autonomously and without centralized control. The mouth of the jellyfish continues to eat even after being surgically removed without the rest of the animal’s body. Decentralization of the nervous system is a successful evolutionary strategy that has helped jellyfish survive for hundreds of millions of years.
Scientists have conducted research to understand how the behavior of the jellyfish is coordinated. The network of neurons initially appeared scattered and unstructured, but the researchers discovered an amazing degree of organization that was only visible through their fluorescent system.
“The experiment showed that the seemingly scattered network of neurons is actually divided into active regions. The neurons are organized in sections that look like slices of pizza, ”explains David Anderson, one of the researchers. – When a jellyfish grabs a salted shrimp with a tentacle, neurons in the “slice of pizza” closest to that tentacle are activated. This causes part of the umbrella to fold inward, bringing the shrimp to the jellyfish’s mouth. “