From 2017 through to late this year, students in the lab of Dr. Harris have been working on various research projects in behavioral neuroscience. Each biology undergraduate student has worked with Dr. Harris to understand how organisms make decisions and how genes and specific nerves in the worm ‘brain’ control these decisions. Each project uses the 1 mm long worm, C. elegans to understand how the worms ‘brain’ controls complex behaviors that are primarily dependent on smell. Despite the challenges that we all have faced due to the COVID19 pandemic, the Harris lab has recently published 3 papers that address fundamental questions in neuroscience and behavior. Four students in the Biology Program have collaborated with Dr. Harris to pursue various neuroscience questions in worms. 

Brianna Ramos, who is in her last year at ‘CI’ lead a project where she investigated how worms and their brains can be used a model to study how mammalian systems, like cats respond to cat sensed odor cues in hopes to map the genes and brain signals that do this (Ramos et al., 2020, Worms avoid a cat sensed repellent). Brianna’s projects showed that our worms in the lab also repel from cat sensed repellents. This work aims to provide insight into how higher mammals sense odor cues and which parts of the brain and which genes control these behaviors. 

Renae Ellis, a CSUCI alumni, who graduated last year lead a project with Dr. Harris (Ellis et al., 2020, Variation between nematodes in a multisensory behavioral assay), where they investigated how worms that originate from different environments and geographical locations make different decisions when encountering conflicting sensory cues, such as attractive foods and dangerous repellents.  

Trevor Wolf and Ariana Perez who are both in their senior year completed the first chapter of a story that studies how a neurotransmitter signal in the worm brain, known as ‘glutamate’ controls how worms recognize and stay on an attractive food patch and is important in maintaining worms on a food patch through sensing of the food signals (Wolf et al., 2020, Glutamatergic transmission regulates locomotory behavior on a food patch in C. elegans).

The Harris lab recently published work on each of these projects. These avenues of research will continue in the future in hopes to understand the mechanisms in the worm 'brain' that are important in sensing and processing of smells and other cues in hopes to shed light on how higher systems, such as humans use brain signals to make decisions. 

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