Current Lab Activities / Interests

The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans is a well established model system for neurobiological and behavioral studies. The animal has only 302 neurons in its entire nervous system, and all the interconnections among these various neurons have been resolved by electron microscopy. For example, there are only 5,600 connections among the small number of cells in the nervous system. Consequently, the animal is the only model system in which such a complete understanding of its neuroanatomy is known. Additionally, there is an extensive collection of different mutants with genetic defects in one or more aspects of this neuroanatomy. This allows, through genetic dissection, confirmation of neurobiological aspects associated with any observed behavioral response. Essentially, the animal is ideally suited for studies of the neurobiological mechanisms by which an animal responds to environmental changes/stimuli.

Interestingly, the nematode has been shown to be sensitive to a large number of volatile and nonvolatile chemicals. This is particularly important since only two neuron types have been found to be dedicated to volatile chemical reception. Such neural arrangements, which possibly share either receptors or neuronal pathways, should lead to ambiguous responses in environments in which a number of different  stimuli are prevalent.

Fundamental to this line of research is basic knowledge of the nematode's sensitivity to different chemicals. We are presently using video image capture and computer tracking technology developed by David Dusenbery (School of Biology, Ga. Tech) to monitor nematode behavior. Specifically, we are interested in exploring the interplay between volatile chemicals and thermal stimuli.