Monday 5 December 2016

Scientists find snail's pace no barrier to molluscs making complex decisions

Published 03/06/2016 | 10:16

Scientists found using electrodes that snails can make complex decisions with just two brain cells
Scientists found using electrodes that snails can make complex decisions with just two brain cells

Snails are not known for their quick thinking but can make complex decisions using just two brain cells, scientists have learned.

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One cell tells the mollusc if it is hungry or not while the other lets it know when food is present.

The discovery, made using electrodes to measure activity in the brains of freshwater snails searching for lettuce, could help engineers design more efficient robots.

Lead researcher Professor George Kemenes, from the University of Sussex, said: "What goes on in our brains when we make complex behavioural decisions and carry them out is poorly understood.

"Our study reveals for the first time how just two neurons can create a mechanism in an animal's brain which drives and optimises complex decision-making tasks.

"It also shows how this system helps to manage how much energy they use once they have made a decision.

"Our findings can help scientists to identify other core neuronal systems which underlie similar decision-making processes.

"This will eventually help us design the 'brains' of robots based on the principle of using the fewest possible components necessary to perform complex tasks."

Food-searching is an example of a goal-directed behaviour essential for survival.

During such goal-directed decision making, an animal must integrate information about both its external environment and internal state while using as little energy as possible.

The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.

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