The Escherichia coli is a bacterium that comfortingly lives in the human gut and one of the best known living organisms. The sensitivity of this cell to environmental changes is reflected in two kind of movements that can be observed in a swimming bacterium: “run” towards an attractant, for example food, and “tumbling”, in which a new direction is chosen randomly for the next “run”.
This simple bimodal behavior of the
constitutes in itself a paradigm of adaptation in which roboticists and cognitive psychologists have found inspiration. We present a new approach to synaptic plasticity in the nervous system by scrutinizing
’s motility and the signaling pathways that mediate its adaptive behavior. The formidable knowledge achieved in the last decade on bacterial chemotaxis, serve as the basis for a theory of a simple form of learning called habituation, that is applicable to biological and other systems. In this paper we try to establish a new framework that helps to explain what signals mean to the organisms, how these signals are integrated in patterns of behavior, and how they are sustained by an internal model of the world. The concepts of adaptation, synaptic plasticity and learning will be revisited within a new perspective, providing a quantitative basis for the understanding of how brains cope with a changing environment.