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Mark Alkema

Umass Medical School
364 plantation street
Neurobiology Dept LRB717
Worcester, MA 1605


Taxa Studied: Invertebrate Animals
Techniques Employed: Degenerate PCR, Sanger Sequencing, Solexa (Illumina) Sequencing, SNP Mapping, Antibody Staining, RNA interference(RNAi), Scanning Electron Microscopy, Epifluoresence Microscopy, Confocal Microscopy, Time-Lapse Microscopy, Transgenesis, Mutagenesis
Research Description: How does the nervous system translate sensory information into behavioral response? Defining sensorimotor circuits requires detailed knowledge of the neural connectivity of the nervous system, and the ability to manipulate the functions of the component neurons and to define and quantify the behavioral outputs. The simplicity and completely defined synaptic connectivity of C. elegans nervous system provides unique opportunity to dissect how neural networks control behavior. Moreover, the combination of powerful genetic methods, 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 other systems.C. elegans moves on its side by propagating a sinusoidal wave of body wall muscle contractions along the length of its body. Gentle touch elicits an escape response in C. elegans where the animal reverses, followed by sharp (omega) turn and a change its direction of locomotion. The escape response serves as a paradigm for neuronal control of behavior that requires: locomotion, sensory processing, decision making, generation and coordination of independent rhythmic motor programs (exploratory head movements and locomotion) and generation of asymmetry in a motor program (turning). Our previous work and that of others has provided a framework for the neural circuit that controls the escape response. Our goal is to elucidate the neural circuits that control locomotion and turning of the worm with single cell resolution. Moreover we want to determine how these motor programs are linked temporally in the execution of the escape response. The optical transparency of C. elegans makes the animal particularly suitable for calcium imaging and optogenetic analysis.
Lab Web Page: http://www.umassmed.edu/neurobiology/faculty/Alkema.cfm?start=0&faculty_id=879
Willing to Host Undergraduates: YES
Actively Seeking Undergraduates: YES
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