I study how animals generate movements. C. elegans, a tiny worm, generates elegant, sinusoidal locomotion. Unlike other large animals that generate similar movement patterns, C. elegans is born with an extremely small nervous system, with only 220 neurons. Such simplicity makes it a unique experimental platform that makes it possible to determine precisely how each neuron, and its synaptic connectivity, contributes to its ability to move.
One or two undergraduate students will work with me, along with several leading neuroscientists and physicists at Harvard University, to work on two aspects of this project: 1) to automate the electron microscopy reconstruction of the C. elegans nervous system, from newborn animal to adult, so that we precisely map how its motor circuit connectivities mature and rewire during development; 2) to determine through experiments the functional contribution of each motor circuit neuron and its connectivities to motor behaviors. Through optogenetics and genetic perturbation of the motor circuit activity at single-neuron and synapse resolution, we will precisely measure the behavior output of each neuron.
Students’ participation will accelerate the mapping of the anatomical and functional connectome of the animal.
Students will be exposed to cutting-edge, integrative anatomical and physiological approaches that allow scientists to decode motor behaviors precisely and fully at the cellular and molecular levels. They will be mentored while being part of an exciting research team that will describe in detail, for the first time, how each neuronal connection contributes to an animal’s movement.