Caenorhabditis elegans Module


For the first days, we will introduce students to the nematode C. elegans. Students will work with different experimental set-ups that will allow us to explore a variety of C. elegans behavior. We will analyze C. elegans behavior in response to thermal, mechanical and chemical stimuli.  The transparency of the animal makes it feasible to use genetically encoded calcium sensors to monitor neural activity in response to sensory stimuli. Transgenic expression of light-activated ion channels, allows us to turn neurons on and off. These optogenetic experiments will be used to define neural requirements of sensory processing. Students will use these techniques to determine 1) how C. elegans responds and remembers the temperature at which was raised; 2) analyze the neural dynamics of a compound motor sequence that is evoked  by touch;  3) determine the neural requirements of calcium channels chemosensation. These experiments are an ideal introduction to Calcium imaging optogenetics in a genetically tractable organism with a defined neural wiring diagram.


C. elegans Module Faculty and Teaching Assistants

Alkema,M_imageMark Alkema
University of Massachusetts Medical School

The goal of my research is to understand how the nervous system orchestrates complex behaviors and how evolutionary forces shape behavior. We are addressing this question by studying the escape response of the nematode C. elegans. We have shown that the escape response allows C. elegans increases it chances to escape from predacious fungi that use constricting rings to entrap nematodes. My lab is elucidating how neurons, neurotransmitters and ion channels define neural circuits control independent motor programs, and how these motor programs are linked temporally in the execution of a compound motor sequence. The simplicity and completely defined synaptic connectivity of C. elegans nervous system in combination with powerful genetic methods, optogenetics, calcium imaging and electrophysiology allows us to address how the nervous controls behavior with a cellular and molecular resolution that cannot be readily attained in any other system. Mark has been a faculty member since 2014.

DirkAlbrechtDirk Albrecht
Worcester Polytechnic University

My research is in the area of microtechnology and behavioral neuroscience, with a focus on developing quantitative tools to study how neural signals govern behavior in intact animals. My laboratory investigates the molecular and genetic basis of neural excitability, or how strongly neurons respond to a particular input. In particular, we ask how excitability is modulated by intracellular and neuropeptide signaling and by processes such as learning and sleep, how it varies across individuals, and how it is altered in models of human neuropsychiatric disorders. We use microfluidics and lab automation/robotics techniques to precisely stimulate many freely-behaving animals at once, while recording their neural and behavioral responses using wide-field microscopy, optogenetics, neural imaging, and machine vision algorithms. Dirk has been a faculty member since 2015.

image001Daniel Colon Ramos 
Yale University

How synapses are assembled in living animals to produce behaviors and store memories? My studies are focused on this question and seek to understand the cell biology of synapses in the thermotaxis circuit of C. elegans, a model system that facilitates in vivo inspection of neuronal cell biology. We have pioneered multidisciplinary approaches for imaging and manipulating synapses in vivo and with single-cell resolution. These approaches allow us to identify and examine key molecular players at the synapse in vivo, determine how they are regulated during development and how they govern information flow during during behavior. Daniel has been a faculty member since 2015.

JDH_photoJosh Hawk
Yale University

My primary scientific interest is in understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms that allow the brain to dynamically encode and store information from the environment. Specifically, I am using the learned thermotaxis behavior of C. elegans as a model to examine how learning impacts synaptic physiology and neural circuit activity. This works spans three levels: behavior, neural circuits, and synapses. We have highly quantitative behavioral systems to examine and identify mutations that impact thermotaxis learning. We measure neural circuit activity in vivo using genetically encoded calcium indicators expressed in individual, defined neurons. Finally, we use highly selective synaptic markers to examine synapses in vivo within individual neurons of the thermotaxis circuit. Using these three approaches in the compact and tractable C. elegans nervous system, we aim to connect genes involved in behavioral plasticity to specific changes in synaptic function and neural circuit logic. Josh has been a faculty member since 2015.


mei-zhen-profile-photoMei Zhen
University of Toronto

Dr Mei Zhen received her PhD in Biochemistry with Dr Peter Candido at the University of British Columbia. She pursued her postdoctoral training at the University of California, Santa Cruz with Dr Yishi Jin on synapse development. She established her research program at the University of Toronto in 2001. She has been a full professor at the Departments of Molecular Genetics and Physiology since 2008, and a senior scientist at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute since 2011. Her research interests include neuronal excitability, synapse development, connectomics, and motor functions.

She was a long-term human frontier fellow, a Canada Research Chair in developmental neurobiology, an EJLB Foundation Scholar, and a Harvard Radcliffe fellow.


rossLagoyRoss Lagoy
Worcester Polytechnic Institute

I am interested in how microscopic organisms can be used to study neuropsychiatric diseases for use in high throughout screens. Using various genetic techniques, we’ve made multiple C. elegans disease models characterized by phenotype and calcium imaging. I’m also developing multiple automated methods for high throughout screens using optogenetics and microfluidics to discover compounds that modulate neural activity. I’m currently entering my fifth year in the Albrecht Lab, and completed my undergraduate and Masters at WPI. Outside of the lab, I enjoy surfing, sailing, and skiing. Ross joined the C. elegans team in 2015.


dan-lawlerDaniel Lawler
Worcester Polytechnic University

I am interested in understanding how organisms are able to adapt to ever-changing environments and how neurological disorders affect this innate adaptability. In our lab we study the model organism C. elegans using behavioral and neural imaging techniques in highly controlled microfluidic environments. My work has focused on two main project areas: Sleep and Learning. Despite their simplicity, C. elegans engage in sleep-like states sharing behavioral and molecular similarities to more complex model organisms. Currently I’m investigating how these sleep-like states alter arousal and neural activity. Additionally, I’ve studied C. elegans’ associative learning capability and I am currently investigating how the neural circuit adapts to strengthen learned association. I’m currently entering my fifth year in the Albrecht Lab at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

jeremy-flormanJeremy Florman
UMass Medical

I am interested in how complex behavior is coordinated at the level of the neural circuit. My work has focused on understanding how a neural circuit integrates information and generates an appropriate behavioral output using the escape response in C. elegans as a model of complex behavior. Using detailed behavioral analysis in conjunction with genetic manipulation, laser cell ablation, optogenetics and calcium imaging I have studied the functional mechanisms underlying the escape circuit. I’ve found that a combination of excitatory and inhibitory feed-forward and feed-back connections, as well as peptidergic neuromodulation act in concert to fine tune circuit activity and orchestrate the escape response. I am currently a 5th year graduate student in Mark Alkema’s lab at Umass Medical School. Jeremy joined the C. elegans team in 2017.


agustin-almoril-porrasAgustin Almoril Porras
Yale University

I am interested in understanding how previous experience can modify neuronal and synaptic physiology to ultimately influence behavior. I use the experience-dependent thermotaxis behavior of C. elegans as the paradigm to approach this question. Employing classical genetic strategies, behavioral analysis and calcium imaging, I study the molecular pathways that alter synaptic function and how they relate to changes in the information flow within the circuit. I am currently a 3rd year graduate student in the Colón-Ramos lab. Agustin joined the C. elegans team in 2017.