Squishy hydra's simple circuits ready for their close-up

phys.org | 7/26/2018 | Staff
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Just because an animal is soft and squishy doesn't mean it isn't tough. Experiments at Rice University show the humble hydra is a good example.

The hydra doesn't appear to age – and apparently never dies of old age. If you cut one in two, you get hydrae. And each one can eat animals twice its size.

Beasties - Survivors - Study - Rice - Computer

These beasties are survivors, and that makes them worthy of study, according to Rice electrical and computer engineer Jacob Robinson.

Robinson and his team have developed methods to corral the tiny, squid-like hydrae and perform the first comprehensive characterization of relationships between neural activity and muscle movements in these creatures. Their results appear in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Lab on a Chip.

Researchers - Methods - Patterns - Activities - Freshwater

The researchers used several methods to reveal the basic neural patterns that drive the activities of freshwater hydra vulgaris: They immobilized the animals in narrow, needle-laden passages, dropped them into arenas about one-tenth the size of a dime and let them explore wide-open spaces. They expect their analysis will help them identify patterns that have been conserved by evolution in larger brain architectures.

Robinson is a neuroengineer with expertise in microfluidics, the manipulation of fluids and their contents at small scales. His lab has developed an array of chip-based systems that let scientists control movements and even sequester biological systems – cells and small animals – to study them up close and over long periods of time.

Lab - Above - Custom - Microfluidics - Systems

The lab has studied all of the above with its custom, high-throughput microfluidics systems, with worms representing the "animal" part.

But hydrae, which top out at about a half-centimeter long, come in different sizes and change their shapes at will. That presented particular challenges to the engineers.

C - Elegans - Roundworms - Similarities - Robinson

"C. elegans (roundworms) and hydrae have similarities," Robinson said. "They're small and transparent and have relatively few neurons, and that makes it easier...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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