Ian Lawn, Neurobiologist: Anemone Nervous System


Ian Lawn is interested in the origin of behaviors. He studies an anemone, Stomphia, to try to understand how an animal with a simple body plan and nervous system is capable of complex behavior. Underwater we see Stomphia free itself from a rock and swim away to escape from a predatory sea star. In the lab Lawn conducts experiments to record the nerve activity of feeding and escape behavior. His recordings reveal that the same nerves are firing more rapidly when the animal detachers from the rock and swims than when the animal feeds.

Next Generation Science Standards for this Video

The cnidarian body plan constrains most anemones’ ability to move away from predators. But there is one species that can break free and swim. The only way it can swim is by contracting its entire body back and forth.

Although they don’t have brains, Cnidarians were the first animals to develop nerves to transmit information to muscles to produce behavior.

Ian Lawn asks a meaningful question and does a careful experiment to help answer the question.

Ian Lawn measures the firing of nerves in the anemone Stomphia

Ian Lawn tests a theory of how the anemone Stomphia’s nerves control its swimming behavior.

Scientist in this video

Cnidarians invented wiring, they invented cabling—that’s what nerves are. Nerves are cables that pass electricity through them. This was an amazing leap for the animal world. –Ian Lawn