Department of Genetics

Special Projects: The C. elegans Connectome Project

The Emmons Lab uses the model organism C. elegans to study nervous system wiring

The only complete wiring diagram of an animal nervous system available today is that of the hermaphrodite sex of the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans, determined over twenty years ago. The Emmons laboratory has now provided the second connectome, that of the posterior nervous system of the C. elegans male. They accomplished this feat after developing a software platform to speed analysis and annotation of electron micrographs of neural tissue. The C. elegans male posterior connectome consists of the processes of some 175 neurons connected by 5000 synapses, forming a neural network. This region of the male nervous system contains the circuits that govern male mating behavior, the most complex behavior of C. elegans. When compared to the hermaphrodite, the new connectivity data reveal for the first time extensive dimorphism between the nervous systems of the two sexes of a single species. Important questions now can be explored at the circuit level using the powerful genetic and molecular tools available in this model system. For example, how does a complex neural network form during development? How does the neural network function in a decision-making process that chooses and drives alternative behavioral outputs? Our wiring diagram now allows us to address these developmental and behavioral questions.

For more information, visit the Emmons Lab website 

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