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Frontiers in the Evolution of Neuronal Computation


Fred Wolf | MPI for Dynamics and Self-Organization, Göttingen, Germany


Nervous systems are not designed by smart engineers but are products of the long and winding, branching roads of animal evolution stretching back to the emergence of the first animals about 800 Million years ago. In this process neural cells and circuits have been tuned molecularly for improved performance, optimized for energy efficiency, and restructured by disruptive innovations in neural information processing. A long-standing objective of computational neuroscience is to identify, model and explain the information processing principles underlying the evolutionary optimization of neural systems design. Recent experimental progress has opened new and stringent perspectives on the evolution of central nervous system structure, information processing, and development. The maturation of powerful computational optimization theories for neuronal circuits has undergone a parallel revolutionary change. Together these developments are setting the stage to take a novel approach and directly address information processing challenges, the mechanisms of nervous system modification and the resulting remodeling of neuronal information processing from an evolutionary perspective.

The workshop “Frontiers in The Evolution of Neuronal Computation” will present, in three topical sessions, selected lines of research at the frontier of computational neuroscience and evolutionary biology. Session “Emergence and Design of the First Nervous Systems” will focus on recent work opening novel perspectives on the original evolutionary invention of nerve cells, synapses and the first neural circuits controlling animal behavior. Session “Invariance, Universality and Optimization in the Evolution of Sensory Systems” will present research that aims to identify evolutionary invariants of sensory information processing and the mechanisms underlying its developmental and evolutionary optimization. Finally, the session “Principles of Cortical Circuit Evolution” will focus on work that strives to decipher the principles and processes underlying fundamental transformations of the circuit structure of the cerebral cortical learning machine in the evolution of modern mammals. Overall the research presented at the workshop is chosen to foster discussing, refining and advancing research questions on frontier topics in evolutionary neuroscience and to highlight the novel opportunities and challenges for computational neuroscience they offer. Each session will conclude with a group discussion to mark common ground and to identify overarching research goals and unsolved problems from a computational and theoretical perspective.
This event will be supported by the DFG Priority Program 2205 “Evolutionary Optimization of Neuronal Processing” and is part of a series of topical meetings on key questions in nervous system evolution.