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Several far-flung tendrils of a single neuron can each act independently — boosting computing power without increasing the number of cells.Somehow that circuitry allows a honeybee, with barely a million neurons on board, to meander six miles from its hive, find food, and make a beeline directly home.Still, insects exercise impressive information management: They pack neurons into their brains 10 times more densely than mammals do.They also use each brain cell more flexibly than mammals.Using microscopes, tweezers, and hand-built electronics, he and his graduate students tease apart — ever so gently — the cell-by-cell workings of brain structures the size of several grains of salt.
Theall wants to eavesdrop on neurons to determine how they contribute to learning the location of those landmarks.
Few humans could do the same even with a map and a compass.
On the surface, the brains of insects and mammals look nothing alike.
"We have literally no idea at what level of brain complexity consciousness stops," says Christof Koch, another Caltech neuroscientist.
"Most people say, 'For heaven's sake, a bug isn't conscious.' But how do we know? I don't kill bugs needlessly anymore." Heinrich Reichert of the University of Basel in Switzerland has become more and more interested in "the relatedness of all brains." Reichert's own studies of the brain's origin lead to a little-known ancestor, a humble creature called Urbilateria, which wriggled and swam nearly a billion years ago.