The human brain’s billions of neurons represent a menagerie of cells that are among both the most highly specialized and variable ones in our bodies. Neurons convert electrical signals to chemical signals, and in humans, their lengths can be so tiny as to span just the tip of a sharpened pencil or, in some cases, even stretch the width of a doorway. Their flexible control of movement and decision-making explains why they are so key to survival in the animal kingdom.
Most animals depend on their allotment of neurons for survival. It might stand to reason, then, that the common ancestor of all of these animals also moved about the Earth millions of years ago under the guidance of electrochemical signals transmitted and received by networks of neurons. The idea that these pivotal cells evolved multiple times seems implausible because neurons are highly complex cells, and they are also quite similar among animal lineages. But a series of recent evolutionary biology studies are straining the assumption that all animal neurons have a single origin. [Continue reading…]