Titas Sengupta, Ph.D., and Mark Moyle, Ph.D., (Colón-Ramos Laboratory), Department of Cell Biology, Yale University
In the human, billions of neurons are devoted to our sensory systems, allowing us to see, hear, taste, smell and touch, senses which together help us to navigate our environment. But all of these senses can also be imparted using much simpler systems. The nematode shown in this image (Caenorhabditis elegans) is only 1 millimeter in length and has a grand total of 302 neurons in its entire nervous system. But this simple worm is capable of detecting a large number of physical stimuli, including chemicals (taste/smell), light, temperature and touch. Here, two touch receptor neurons in the body are labeled in green; note the elaborate branching network of filamentous neurites from these cells that extends throughout the body. By studying the molecular and cellular basis by which this simple neuronal network can respond to touch stimuli, scientists are hoping to better understand our own much more complex (and more enigmatic) sensory systems.