Hebrew University BSc, MSc Physics, 1998
Weizmann Institute of Science, PhD Physics, 2004
All living organisms obtain information about their environment, process it and respond with behavioral output. Often, but not exclusively, information processing is performed by networks of neurons in the brain. However, studying complex brains is extremely challenging both conceptually and technically. Fortunately, some model systems exhibit non-trivial behavioral patterns that are governed by neuronal circuits of limited size. A handful of such identifiable neurons are ideal for a detailed scrutiny on multiple levels: from circuitry to individual molecules within single cells. They can thus facilitate the understanding of basic principles of neural information processing and the engineering of neural circuits.
The nematode C. elegans possesses 302 neurons, the anatomy and connectivity of which are known with great precision. It was the first multi-cellular organism to have its genome fully sequenced and many of its genes have been cloned and characterized. Furthermore, a slew of existing genetic, genomic and biophysical techniques make it possible to perturb and assay this model organism with unparalleled experimental resolution. However, to date a comprehensive picture of how their nervous system goes about processing the information provided by the sensory apparatus simply does not exist.
We use a combination of experimental approaches for the investigation of the recently reported sleep like behavior of worms. C. elegans molts its cuticle at the end of each of four developmental stages. Raizen et al. recently described the quiescent behavioral state that precedes each molt, as well as its similarities to sleep. Since the evolutionary origin and the very purpose of sleep are largely unknown our hope is that the combination of a powerful model system and our experimental tools will assist in unveiling at least part of the mystery.