A collaboration between the Srinivasan Lab of WPI and the Flavell Lab at MIT’s Picower Institute of Learning and Memory has shown it’s possible to understand how humans process complex data to make simple choices by studying Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans), a microscopic round worm.
Because the nematodes' "brains" are 300,000,000 times smaller than humans' brains, the worms' simple behaviors of moving towards something they’re attracted to or moving away from something they want to avoid can help determine where in their brain they are making the decision of attraction or avoidance. The group from the Flavell Lab studied what decisions C. elegans make in the presence of food and also found which neurons and specifically which receptors “smell” the food cue. The team from the Srinivasan Lab, led by Associate Professor of Biology and Biotechnology Jagan Srinivasan and graduate student Elizabeth DiLoreto, determined the function of the individual AWA sensory neuron.
Overall, this collaboration and resulting paper show that it’s possible to get to the root of how complex decisions happen by understanding that diverse feeding states influence receptor expression on specific neurons to change food searching behavior. The study has been published in elifesciences.org.