Saul Kato, UCSF, Neurology
“Emergence of real-time behavior from the nervous system of C. elegans”.
The production of flexible but controlled behavioral sequences in simpler animals may be an evolutionary foundation for higher cognitive abilities in humans. We study how real-time function emerges from the nervous system of C. elegans, a 1 millimeter long roundworm. Despite having only 302 neurons, this animal has a rich behavioral repertoire including probabilistic and directed taxis, associative learning, cooperation, and coordinated body movement. We combine dynamical systems analysis with the development and application of high-throughput, high-resolution neural activity imaging technologies, genomic engineering and experimental assays to understand how this "low-n" neural network processes sensory stimuli and integrates them with an evolving internal state in order to produce competent, continuous behavior.