Are worms social because of a neuropeptide conserved between worms and humans?

Worms can be used as a model for social behaviours to understand if these behaviours are linked to healthy aging. We are interested in the effects of a functionally conserved neuropeptide and its receptor on social behaviours and on longevity.

Department: Biomedical Sciences

Supervised by: Nandini Vasudevan

The Placement Project

C. elegans, a model system where all genes and neuronal pathways have been mapped has been widely used as model for aging research. We are interested in understanding if healthy aging is dependent on social behaviours displayed in adulthood. Our collaboration with Dr. Kevei, initiated during the past two years solely involving undergraduates in UROP projects, has allowed us to develop this model in order to screen for social behaviours. A neuropeptide, oxytocin that is critical for parent-child bonding in mammals is conserved in the worm. Recently, this worm ortholog called nematocin along with the nematocin receptor has been shown to be important in food leaving behaviours displayed by adult hermaphrodites, in the presence of their larvae showing functional conservation of this neuropeptide and its receptors in an invertebrate. A second stereotypical social behaviour is the natural mating behaviour of the male worm, which can be “scored” qualitatively and quantitatively. The aim of this project is to determine the effect of oxytocin on these social behaviours and on longevity of the male and hermaphrodite C. elegans worms. If successful, data from this project will allow us to argue that some hormone-mediated behavioural outputs currently measured only in rodents could be replaced by experimentation in C. elegans.


The student will learn to do genetic crosses of different C. elegans mutants, do social behaviour experiments on the worms and learn to analyze these behaviours. At the end of such data collection, the student will be taught to analyze and interpret his/her her data.

Skills, knowledge and experience required

No laboratory experience is required; knowledge of endocrinology or biomedical science or genetics is desirable but not essential. We would prefer undergraduates with good planning and time-management skills.

Skills which will be developed during the placement

The student will learn a mix of both technical skills in the laboratory and analytical skills that will be useful in both research and non-research careers. The student will learn a) to read and analyze scientific literature pertaining to this area b) learn to culture and manipulate C. elegans worms and analyze them under the microscope c) set up mating behaviour and other social behaviour assays d) “score” social behaviours e) to analyze data using a range of software programs including Graph Pad Prism, ImageJ and Microsoft Excel and g) to interpret and present the data. This is a stand-alone project and the student can participate in this project from the beginning i.e. read and perform the experimental paradigm to the end i.e. interpret data. If successful, this would add to already existing data derived from a previous UROP project and will hopefully lead to publication or poster presentation.

Place of Work

Either Knight Building or the new HLS building.

Hours of Work

9-6 pm

Approximate Start and End Dates (not fixed)

Friday 12 June 2020 - Wednesday 12 August 2020

How to Apply

The post will be advertised centrally on the UROP website between 24th February and 3rd April 2020. Students should submit a CV and a brief statement of purpose (1/2 a page or less). These documents should be sent directly to the Project Supervisor (click on supervisor name at the top of the page for email). Students interested in “getting their feet” wet and learning how scientific data is obtained and analysed are encouraged to apply. We would prefer students who would continue to work with us for the undergrad Part 3 thesis and are considering postgraduate research. Successful candidates will then be invited to interview.

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