Basal Cognition in Living Cells

Basal Cognition in Living Cells

Flatworms called planaria live in the muck of lakes and ponds worldwide. Scientists are intrigued by the fact that if you tear the worm in half, its head will grow a new tail, and its tail will grow a new head, giving you two worms. A new field of science involves the study of basal cognition in living cells outside of the brain.

Many years ago, I was involved with a project that attempted to fight the presence of invasive lampreys in the Great Lakes. Lampreys are eel-like fish that swim up tributary rivers to spawn. We placed barriers on streams to catch and kill the lampreys. The problem was that those who worked the lamprey traps were told to cut the eels in half and throw them back in the river to avoid the stink and mess of dead eels on land. They didn’t understand that returning the eels to water doubled their population because both halves survived.

In the case of the planarian, researchers at Tuft University found that the worm not only survived, but the tail contained previous memory. Both the head and tail of the worm remembered the location of a food source learned before the worm was cut in half. Michael Levin at Tufts has shown that cells can use subtle changes in electric fields as a kind of memory. This basal cognition in living cells works using electrical signals in animals and plants.

Scientists have found basal cognition in the Venus flytrap and the touch-me-not plant. The touch-me-not leaves will fold and wilt if touched to prevent being eaten. Scientists found that if the plant is jostled throughout the day without being hurt, it will learn to ignore jostling. The Venus flytrap can count, snapping shut only if two of the sensory hairs on its trap are tripped in rapid succession. It pours digestive juices into the closed trap only if sensory hairs are tripped three more times.

RNA seems to be a medium of memory storage for cells. Taking RNA from a slug that had experienced an electric shock and injecting it into a new slug causes the new slug to recoil from the touch that preceded the shock in the old slug.

This research shows that intelligence does not always require a brain but is wired into all living things and is vital to all life. The practical use of these discoveries of bioelectricity may help treat cancer where cells are not cooperating with the rest of the body. God’s design of life is far more highly engineered than anyone suspected. We have a lot to learn about basal cognition in living cells.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

Reference: “Minds Everywhere” in Scientific American for February 2024, pages 44-51.

Tully Monster

Tully Monster
During my senior year in high school amateur fossil collector Francis Tully discovered the fossil of an extraordinary animal in the Mazon Creek collecting area near Chicago. It was so odd that the state of Illinois made it the state’s official fossil. The scientific name of this extinct animal is Tullimonstrum gregarium, but it is colloquially known as the Tully monster.

The rocks around Chicago are part of an old reef, and a well-known part of the rock formation is the world’s largest gravel pit called “Thornton Reef.” I have taken students to that quarry several times when I was teaching earth science. It is an amazing fossil collecting area.

The Tully monster was tube-shaped with eyes on a stalk sticking off of the ten-inch long body. It had a mouth which was very long and terminated in what appeared to be a single pincer style of grabber similar to a lobster. Newer finds suggest that the animal had a notochord which was essentially a primitive backbone. The shape of the notochord is similar to that seen in lampreys. Researchers at Yale University say lampreys are analogs, but there is a great deal left to learn about the mysterious lifestyle of this ancient creature.

A very unusual set of circumstances is required to preserve an animal fossil such as Tully monster. Finds like that are rare events, but since the 1950s many more Tully monster fossils have been found, all in Illinois. We have much to learn about what animals lived and how they lived in the past. Future discoveries will alter our understanding of how God prepared the Earth for humans.

At the same time, there is much we can understand about what has led to the Earth we enjoy. That is because much of Earth’s history has been preserved in the rocks. A booklet available on our website is “God’s Revelation in His Rocks and His Word.” We encourage you to read that free online booklet for more information on this topic.
–John N. Clayton © 2019

Reference: Scientific American, May 2016, page 14, and Wikipedia.