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The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans is a favourable organism for the study of simple nervous systems because it is amenable to ultrastructural and genetic analyses (Brenner 1973; Ward, Thomson, White & Brenner 1975; Ware, Clark, Crossland & Russell 1975; White, Southgate, Thomson & Brenner 1976 ; Sulston 1976). In this paper we report the detailed structure of the pharynx.
The pharynx is a muscular pump and is a prominent feature of the nematode's head. Rhythmic contractions of the seven muscle regions suck bacteria into the lumen, grind them and pass them back into the gut. In addition, the structure contains epithelial, and gland cells. Its own nervous system, composed of twenty cells, is nearly completely isolated from the somatic nervous system.
Thus the pharynx is a self-contained neuromuscular system that is small enough to be described in detail by reconstruction from electron micrographs of serial sections. When combined with behavioural observations, this information might be used to make some suggestions about the functioning of simple nervous systems.
Web adaptation, Thomas Boulin, for Wormatlas, 2002, 2003