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Project summary

Project title

Smell as a primer for food intake in C. elegans through pre-emptive pumping

short summary

C. elegans takes in food through pharyngeal pumping, which is triggered by the presence of food or serotonin in the environment. C. elegans is known to “sample” its environment via slow, regular pumping, then increase its pumping rate upon encounter with a substantial food source. However, we observed that C. elegans already begins rapid pumping before encountering a high concentration of food in a defined area, such as a bacterial lawn. We hypothesize that smell plays a role in priming C. elegans for the intake of food by increasing pharyngeal pumping pre-emptively. We aim to also isolate the main neurons responsible for this behavior.

Parameters Estimates
Estimated time 6 months
Audience worm community and biologists
Topic systems biology and technology and methods development

Possible audience(s):

  • worm community
  • computational neuroscience
  • physicists
  • biologists

Possible topics:

  • Technology and Methods development
  • Molecular
  • Systems
  • Physics/Information theory


To explain the observed behavior and find the neurons responsible for this physical response in C. elegans to food.


To use video recordings of free-moving C. elegans to track pumping rate before, during and after entry into a bacterial lawn, in order to determine how close to a food source worms begin to pump pre-emptively and whether this is affected by the deletion of neurons involved in smell.


Worms with integrated mCherry signal isolated to the pharynx are placed on either side of an OP50-GFP lawn. Those that enter the field of view of the camera are recorded entering the lawn and for a period afterward. An automatic Python algorithm measures the velocity and pumping rate of the worms throughout the video to determine when pre-emptive pumping occurs.

The mCherry worms will also be crosses with various smell-deficient mutants to determine if smell affects pre-emptive pumping.

Best possible outcome/result

The method is successful in being able to measure pre-emptive pumping, giving evidence that an algorithm tracking pumping in free-moving C. elegans is possible using the affordable microscopes constructed in this lab. We are also able to establish the neuron(s) that play a vital role in this behavior (and, if there is time, what concentration of food is considered enough to trigger this behavior).

Required technology

Basler camera


Monika's Python algorithm

Computer with high enough power to compute the algorithm

Raspberry pie for data collection (?)

New dependencies
Theory/ analysis aspects
Experimental aspects
wiki/documentation/nicolina/project_summary.txt · Last modified: 2020/01/14 03:04 by nzjacic