Hearing without an eardrum: a tiny worm that surprises science

With the help of another series of sophisticated genetic tests and examinations, the team has finally succeeded in identifying the molecules in the worms’ nervous system responsible for hearing sounds: the nicotinic acetylcholine receptors. These neurotransmitters are well researched and present in many animals. The particles can be found in all parts of the worm’s skin. There they receive sound waves and pass the sound information to the brain. Worms that were genetically modified to lack these molecules did not respond to sound.

“No other neurotransmitter has been researched as extensively as this molecule, and yet no one has discovered what these scientists realized,” he says. Gal Haspel, a neurologist at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark who did not collaborate on the study.

He describes the scientists’ research methods as impeccable. They would flip each stone over to understand exactly the cell mechanism on which this interaction depends.

Definition of “hearing”

Experience has shown that C. elegans It can receive sound waves transmitted through the air using a genetically unique mechanism that is similar to our hearing.

But whether worms can actually hear because of this is another matter. Some scholars believe that true hearing requires a deeper understanding: awareness and the ability to locate sounds on a cognitive map. Shawn Shaw also finds that perceiving and interacting with airborne sound – a behavior he describes as auditory perception in the study – does not adequately meet this criterion.

“Understanding means processing signals and giving them meaning,” he says.

Others are less strict in this regard. “Many subspecies of biological classification can also receive sound in unexpected ways,” Elizabeth Ronan says. “The worms are fluid-filled horns that are nonetheless capable of perceiving sounds. The study should at least lead to a certain opening towards further research into the question of what hearing actually is.”

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