For many years, neuroscientists have regarded the nematode worm, Caenorhabditis elegans, to be a curious exception to an otherwise apparently universal rule.
Alone among organisms, it seemed, the worm – a popular subject of research – had a nervous system that did not produce the discrete bursts of electric current known as “action potentials”.
These bursts are recognised as the mechanism by which nerve cells communicate with each other, so their absence in C. elegans was a mystery.
Now, however, a team of researchers led by Cori Bargmann from the Rockefeller University in the US has succeeded in isolating an olfactory cell from the worm and demonstrating that it does, indeed, produce action potentials.
And where there’s one potential, there’s a good chance there will be others, still waiting to be found. The research is published in the journal Cell.