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Neuroscientists explore the risky business of self-preservation

A critical survival decision for all animals is when, where and how to escape from a looming threat. A research team using multi-neuron imaging has learned that the escape response for prey is more nuanced than previously thought. In a study of larval zebrafish, the researchers are the first to find that the animal’s innate escape response incorporates the speed of the approaching predator--the urgency of the threat--and not just the proximity of the predator in its calculation of how best to flee. Prior to the new research, the escape behavior was thought to be driven by a proximity threshold where anything that gets within a certain distance triggers an escape. By attributing prey’s neural escape response to the predator’s velocity as well as proximity of approach, the research team has uncovered new information that can help scientists understand the neural mechanics that fuel the most elemental self-preservation instincts.

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