Seeing the Beautiful Intelligence of Microbes
Bacterial biofilms and slime molds are more than crude patches of goo. Detailed time-lapse microscopy reveals how they sense and explore their surroundings, communicate with their neighbors and adaptively reshape themselves.
The slime mold Physarum polycephalum forms a network of cytoplasmic veins as it spreads across a surface.
Intelligence is not a quality to attribute lightly to microbes. There is no reason to think that bacteria, slime molds and similar single-cell forms of life have awareness, understanding or other capacities implicit in real intellect. But particularly when these cells commune in great numbers, their startling collective talents for solving problems and controlling their environment emerge. Those behaviors may be genetically encoded into these cells by billions of years of evolution, but in that sense the cells are not so different from robots programmed to respond in sophisticated ways to their environment. If we can speak of artificial intelligence for the latter, perhaps it's not too outrageous to refer to the underappreciated cellular intelligence of the former.
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Our resonance theory of consciousness attempts to provide a unified framework that includes neuroscience, as well as more fundamental questions of neurobiology and biophysics, and also the philosophy of mind. It gets to the heart of the differences that matter when it comes to consciousness and the evolution of physical systems.
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"We uncovered a set of rules that control the organisation of the 'second brain' not just along a single gut layer but across the 3-D space of the gut wall," says Reena Lasrado, first author of the paper and researcher in Vassilis's lab at the Crick.
The team explored whether this intricate structure of the enteric nervous system also contributes to nerve cell activity in the gut.
"A subtle electrical stimulation to the enteric nervous system showed that nerve cells generated by the same parent cell responded in synchrony," says Vassilis. "This suggests that developmental relationships between cells of the enteric nervous system of mammals are fundamental for the neural regulation of gut function."
"Now that we have a better understanding of how the enteric nervous system is built and works, we can start to look at what happens when things go wrong particularly during the critical stages of embryo development or early life. Perhaps mistakes in the blueprint used to build the neural networks of the gut are the basis of common gastrointestinal problems."
The paper 'Lineage-dependent spatial and functional organization of the mammalian enteric nervous system' is published in Science.
More information: Reena Lasrado et al. Lineage-dependent spatial and functional organization of the mammalian enteric nervous system, Science (2017). DOI: 10.1126/science.aam7511
Provided by The Francis Crick Institute