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'Don't mind the heat'


Cold-blooded animals possess brains with a super-human ability – they function normally over a much larger temperature range.  

A new study from the Ch’ng Lab, in collaboration with the Lu Lab at the Georgia Institute of Technology (USA), reveals how this ability is implemented in  C. elegans. Previously, these labs have unearthed a neural network that encodes food availability using gene activity, which in turn adjusts the animal’s lifespan according to the amount of food it encounters. Their latest discovery shows that this neural network can maintain the same performance at different temperatures. The roundworm’s ability to adapt to different food conditions at different temperatures has general implications for how flexible physiological processes can function normally in different environments, which is essential for survival. 

The Ch'ng lab et al. found precise connections between genes that switch between activation and inhibition as temperatures change. The unexpected ability of this neural network to reconfigure its connections enables it to compensate for the negative effects of heat. Such insights into how a biological network dynamically adjusts its connections to maintain performance can inspire designs of artificial neural networks for more efficient and robust artificial intelligence systems.

By QueeLim Ch'ng