Biology's 'breadboard': cGAL, a temperature-robust GAL4-UAS system for C. elegans

December 26, 2016, New York Institute of Technology
The roundworm C. elegans, measuring a mere 1 millimeter, is a powerful model system for understanding how nervous systems produce behaviors. Credit: Navin Pokala

The human brain, the most complex object in the universe, has 86 billion neurons with trillions of yet-unmapped connections. Understanding how it generates behavior is a problem that has beguiled humankind for millennia, and is critical for developing effective therapies for the psychiatric disorders that incur heavy costs on individuals and on society. The roundworm C elegans, measuring a mere 1 millimeter, is a powerful model system for understanding how nervous systems produce behaviors. Unlike the human brain, it has only 302 neurons, and has completely mapped neural wiring of 6,000 connections, making it the closest thing to a computer circuit board in biology. Despite its relative simplicity, the roundworm exhibits behaviors ranging from simple reflexes to the more complex, such as searching for food when hungry, learning to avoid food that previously made it ill, and social behavior.

Understanding how this dramatically simpler works will give insights into how our vastly more complex brains function and is the subject of a paper published on December 26, 2016, in Nature Methods.

Specifically, in electrical and computer engineering, circuits are designed and studied using breadboards that allow circuit elements to be easily added, removed, and modified. Likewise, in order to understand how the neural circuits in brains generate behavior, scientists need to manipulate the activity of , turning them on and off at will. To do this, researchers have developed robust tools (transgenic actuators), that use drugs or light to activate or silence the neurons in which they are expressed. At present, these cell-specific systems need to be custom-made for each neuron and actuator combination a researcher may be interested in.

Navin Pokala, Ph.D., assistant professor of Life Sciences at New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) College of Arts and Sciences, with researchers at Caltech, adapted the GAL4-UAS system for expressing transgenes in the nematode C elegans. This system, which uses a gene regulatory protein from yeast, greatly reduces the work required for making cell-specific perturbations. Instead of constructing new DNA and transgenic animals for each cell and actuator, new cell-actuator combinations can be generated by simply mating already-constructed animals, dramatically reducing the time and cost.

Pokala and his collaborators plan on exploring variations to the GAL4-UAS system that allow more precise control of actuator gene expression than is currently possible. The newfound ease of transgenic animal construction allows for systematic perturbation of the cells in the nervous system, allowing Pokala and colleagues to build a database linking neural perturbations to behaviors. When combined with the previously mapped circuit wiring, this database will be a valuable resource for developing and testing models of nervous system function.

Explore further: Researchers provide first peek at how neurons multitask

More information: Han Wang et al, cGAL, a temperature-robust GAL4–UAS system for Caenorhabditis elegans, Nature Methods (2016). DOI: 10.1038/nmeth.4109

Related Stories

Researchers provide first peek at how neurons multitask

November 6, 2014

Researchers at the University of Michigan have shown how a single neuron can perform multiple functions in a model organism, illuminating for the first time this fundamental biological mechanism and shedding light on the ...

The wiring of fly brains—mapping cell-to-cell connections

November 2, 2016

Biologists at Caltech have developed a new system for visualizing connections between individual cells in fly brains. The finding may ultimately lead to "wiring diagrams" of fly and other animal brains, which would help researchers ...

Recommended for you

Coffee-based colloids for direct solar absorption

March 22, 2019

Solar energy is one of the most promising resources to help reduce fossil fuel consumption and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to power a sustainable future. Devices presently in use to convert solar energy into thermal ...

EPA adviser is promoting harmful ideas, scientists say

March 22, 2019

The Trump administration's reliance on industry-funded environmental specialists is again coming under fire, this time by researchers who say that Louis Anthony "Tony" Cox Jr., who leads a key Environmental Protection Agency ...

The taming of the light screw

March 22, 2019

DESY and MPSD scientists have created high-order harmonics from solids with controlled polarization states, taking advantage of both crystal symmetry and attosecond electronic dynamics. The newly demonstrated technique might ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

MarsBars
1 / 5 (2) Dec 28, 2016
Control of psychiatric illness can be accomplished with human pheromones alone. A paternal facial skin surface lipid pheromone deficiency (not kissing one's father sufficiently in childhood) originates all (so far as has been tested) human sociopathy. The gamut runs from criminal behavior & drug addiction to ADHD, PTSD, OCD, onychophagia and sexual perversions.

... homosexuality is a paternal facial skin surface lipid pheromone deficiency in the face of a maternal facial skin surface lipid pheromone sufficiency.

Bubba, can you cite any peer-reviewed papers or other scientific evidence in support of your extraordinary claims?
MarsBars
1 / 5 (2) Dec 29, 2016
Bubba, can you cite any peer-reviewed papers or other scientific evidence in support of your extraordinary claims?

Nicholson B. Pheromones cause disease: pheromone/odourant transduction.
Med Hypotheses. 2001 Sep;57(3):361-77.

Apart from your own paper, if you don't mind.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.