Scientists create multicolor worm brain atlas using new gene staining method

A new technology developed by Colombian researchers known as NeuroPAL is helping to reveal the dynamics of neural networks in the nervous system of microscopic worms. The scientists simply created a multicolored atlas of the worm’s brain.

The human brain contains approximately 86 billion neurons, or nerve cells, connected by approximately 100 trillion connections or synapses. Each cell plays its own role in helping us move our muscles, process our environment, form memories, and more.

Given the sheer number of neurons and connections, there is still a lot we don’t know about how neurons work together. Colombian scientists have developed a staining technique known as NeuroPAL (Neural Polychromatic Atlas), which makes it possible to identify each neuron in the mind of the Caenorhabditis elegans worm.

“The ability to identify neurons or other cell types using color can help scientists visually understand the role of each part of a biological system. This means that when something goes wrong with the system, it can help determine where the breakdown has occurred in the genes.”

Eviatar Yemini, Research Fellow, Columbia Department of Biological Sciences and lead author of the study.

NeuroPAL, which uses genetic techniques to paint neurons with fluorescent colors, allows scientists, for the first time in history, to identify every neuron in an animal’s nervous system, while simultaneously recording the functioning of the entire nervous system.

To conduct their research, the scientists created two programs: one that identifies all neurons in colorful images of the NeuroPAL worm, and the second that takes the NeuroPAL method outside the worm, creating optimal staining for potential methods of identifying any type of cell or tissue in any organism that allows genetic manipulation.

“We used NeuroPAL to record patterns in the worm’s brain activity and decipher how the nervous system works.”

Eviatar Yemini, Research Fellow, Columbia Department of Biological Sciences and lead author of the study.

Since neuron DNA associated with specific genes was stained with color, colors can also be used to reveal whether those specific genes are present in the cell or not.

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