Mapping the Network of Biology: Connectomics

Shrey Thaker ‘22

Neuron Brain Nervous System Neurons Nerve Cell
Figure 1. Though end-to-end connections are understood, only recently did science unravel the individual connections between each neuron in the C. Elegans nervous system.

Since the discovery of DNA and its structure, a common goal of many scientists has to unravel and explore biology through manipulation of its inherent maps. At one point, mapping the human genome was considered  key to understanding human life. However, the driving force behind a human being’s unique existence is their extraordinary neural capabilities. Today, the cartography of science strives further: mapping the nervous system of organisms. 

Recently, researchers were able to map the neural connections in the common laboratory worm, Caenorhabditis Elegans (C. Elegans). Befitting the foundational lesson in biology, learning the structure of any system divulges critical information regarding its function, and further knowledge on possible manipulation. Indeed, ideas of C. Elegans nervous system have persisted, but the extraordinary aspect of Cook et al.’s work is the detailing of individual connections between neurons, a level of information not before reached by the scientific community. These connections were not only limited to nerve-nerve interactions, but they also included nerve-muscle and nerve-tissue synaptic connections. In order to decipher these connections, the researchers collected extensive micrographs from electron microscopy, which allowed them to see individual connections at the cellular level. 

It is true that compared to human beings, the C. Elegans worm is incredibly primitive and simple in its organization. However, the concept of mapping individual neurons supplies the capability of understanding organism behavior and gives a basis to seek out abnormalities. By understanding the true map of the nervous system, it may be possible to apply intervention in multiple medical fields in the future.



  1. S. Cook, et al., Whole-animal connectomes of both Caenorhabditis elegans sexes. Nature 571, 63-71 (2019). 
  2. Image retrieved from:

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