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Comb jellies look like bizarre aliens, and scientists made a weird new discovery about them

Published May 20th, 2023 9:01AM EDT
comb jellyfish have nervous systems
Image: kondratuk / Adobe

Comb jellyfish are even more unique than scientists previously expected, as new research shows they have a nervous system unlike anything scientists have ever encountered. The uniqueness here is due to the way that the comb jellies nervous system is built up. Instead of using gaps between synapses for communication, the comb jellies have a more fused nervous system.

It’s an intriguing discovery that completely changes how scientists look at the nervous systems found in animals, because we’ve never seen anything like this. Not only does it prove even more just how different animals can be at times, but it also shows that there are other ways for neurons to connect to each other.

By proving just how different the nervous system is in these creatures, scientists have unlocked a mystery that could expand to other animals, too. Further, these fused neurons could hint at the independent evolution of these systems. However, the scientists say they don’t really know for sure. Research detailing the discovery of the comb jellies’ unique nervous system is published in Science.

comb jelly
A new species of comb jelly that was discovered in the depths of the ocean. Image source: NOAA Fisheries

The research here looked at ctenophores that were just a few days old. At that point they’re able to move around and even reproduce, but they aren’t full adults. The researchers found that the ctenospheres nervous systems didn’t have synapses. Instead, the entire system is fused and connected. This allows the neurons to communicate across membrane-like connections.

It’s an intriguing discovery that makes the comb jellyfish appear even more alien than it already does. And, if other animals are discovered to have similar nervous systems, it could help shed more light on just how possible this kind of independent evolution is. But the comb jellies don’t just rely on these membranes, the scientists also discovered that they still use synapses, too.

Why the comb jellyfish nervous system relies on two different means of communication is unclear. But it does pose more questions for researchers to strive to answer, and perhaps it could help us discover more about these alien-like creatures in the future.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.

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