Jellyfish May Possess Advanced Learning Abilities, According to New Study
A recent study published in the journal Current Biology suggests that jellyfish may be much smarter than previously believed. The research, conducted by scientists at the University of Copenhagen, reveals that the poisonous Caribbean box jellyfish can learn at a far more complex level than expected, despite having only 1,000 nerve cells and no centralized brain.
The findings of this research are challenging the fundamental understanding of the brain and have the potential to shed light on human cognitive functions and the process of dementia. It was once thought that jellyfish had limited learning abilities, but this study demonstrates that they have a more refined ability to learn and can even learn from their mistakes.
Jellyfish and their relatives, known as cnidarians, are considered to be the earliest living animals to develop nervous systems. Neurobiologist and professor Anders Garm, who has been studying box jellyfish for over a decade, remarked, “For fundamental neuroscience, this is pretty big news. It provides a new perspective on what can be done with a simple nervous system.”
The research team discovered that contrast plays a vital role in jellyfish’s ability to assess distances. As the box jellyfish approach mangrove roots in search of copepods, they turn and swim away. Assessing distances accurately is crucial for their survival, and the researchers found that contrast, specifically how dark the root appears compared to the water, is used by the jellyfish to determine when to swim away.
Furthermore, the study revealed that the relationship between distance and contrast changes daily due to different factors like rainwater, algae, and wave action. The box jellyfish learn from these changing contrasts and combine visual impressions and sensations to modify their behavior during hunting.
Despite their small nervous systems, box jellyfish can connect various impressions and learn from experience, making them comparable to advanced animals like fruit flies and mice. This challenges previous scientific perceptions of what animals with simple nervous systems are capable of.
The researchers also gained insights into where the learning is occurring within the box jellyfish and are now studying the precise changes that occur in nerve cells during advanced learning. By understanding these cellular processes, they hope to gain valuable knowledge about memory formation in animals.
If the mechanisms involved in jellyfish’s learning functions can be pinpointed, it may have implications beyond just jellyfish. The next step would be to investigate whether these mechanisms apply to all animals or if they are specific to jellyfish.
Aside from expanding our understanding of the brain and learning, this research could also have implications for dementia research. Professor Garm suggests that a better understanding of memory, which is a central problem in dementia, could potentially lead to better understanding and possibly even counteracting the disease.
While more research is needed, this study highlights the incredible learning abilities of jellyfish and the potential insights they offer into neuroscience and human cognitive processes. It opens up a new world of possibilities in our understanding of the brain and its complexities.