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How does the nervous system create behavior? Muscle activity map in hydra gives insight

Accomplishing perhaps a world first, National Science Foundation-funded researchers have mapped the full-body muscular activity of an animal while it was moving and behaving. Their study adds to mounting evidence that the coordinated activity of many cells working together -- in this case, across an entire organism -- generates new functional and behavioral properties that are not present in single cells. In the new study, the researchers watched the patterns of muscle activity in Hydra vulgaris as it bent, contracted, and elongated its tubular body and tentacles. Building on their prior success in mapping full-body neural activity in Hydra, they pinpointed seven distinct patterns of muscle activity and discovered that individual muscle cells can participate in multiple patterns with different kinetics. In Hydra's muscular and nervous systems alike, these patterns appear to emerge from the coordination of many cells working in unison. According to the researchers, this study brings researchers a step closer to "breaking the neural code" and understanding the relationship between a stimulus and its neural response.

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