Animal behaviour is shaped by genetic traits, memories of past experiences and current internal states. Even in isogenic animal populations in a controlled environment, individual behaviour can be found. I obtained evidence that unexpectedly, the behaviour of adult C. elegans nematodes is influenced by the age of their mother. Progeny from young mothers explore less and dwell more in the same spot. I will exploit the model to characterise how the physiology of one generation determines the behaviour of the next generation. Second, I will determine additional environmental factors that imprint on C. elegans during development and thus modulate behaviour later in life. To examine the mechanism of maternal-age induced and environmentally induced behavioural variation, I will combine innovative genetic and pharmacological tools with state-of-the animal tracking and quantitative behavioural data analysis. I aim to determine the molecules and cells that sense and transmit the signals during development, and characterise the changes in neuronal wiring affecting behaviour in adult animals. Funding for this project will allow me to describe how 1) transgenerational effects such as maternal age and 2) environmental stimuli modulate behaviour later in life, in an amenable model organism such as C. elegans. Both parts of the project will partially overlap in time to complete the action within a 2-year time frame. As components of the nervous system are largely conserved between the nematodes and mammals, findings are likely to be extrapolated to higher animals.
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