Individuals generate complex patterns of unique behaviors across development that distinguish them from each other, a property called individuality. Studying the mechanisms underlying behavioral individuality is crucial for our understanding of the large individual-to-individual diversity in behavioral patterns observed in animals, including within human populations.
We have developed a novel multi-camera imaging setup, using C. elegans that allowed for the first time to study behavioral individuality across the full development time of animals, at high spatiotemporal resolution and under tightly controlled environmental conditions (Stern et al. Cell 2017). Using this unique setup we showed that individuals within isogenic populations show long-term behavioral individuality throughout all developmental stages, that was dependent on the function of a few neuromodulators.
The neuronal basis of individuality
What are the underlying differences in neuronal states that generate behavioral variation among individuals? And at which times across development individuality is established?. To study these fundamental questions we combine cutting-edge neuronal imaging and cell-specific
manipulations with long-term behavioral
tracking across development.
The role of epigenetics in generating
neuronal and behavioral variation
Epigenetic mechanisms have the potential to
generate different cellular states without altering the DNA sequence. To investigate the role of specific epigenetic pathways in generating individual-to-individual variations in neuronal and behavioral patterns we systematically identify and study these epigenetic effects on behavior.
Environmental effects on individuality
What is the role of various environments in further enhancing or constraining the degree of individuality across the population? And what are the neuronal and molecular mechanisms that mediate it?
To study these questions we are investigating the effects of both social and stressful environmental contexts on behavior.