The Chalfie lab researches fundamental problems of neurobiology in the model organism Caenorhabditis elegans, a transparent free living nematode that grows to be about 1 mm in length. Specifically, the lab revolves around the study of the touch receptor neurons (TRNs) which are the sensory neuron responsible for mechanosensation. Through study of the TRNs’ development and function–often through genetic screens–the lab aims to elucidate broader principles of neurobiology such as neurodegeneration.
Natalie Sayegh CC ‘19 is using the one of TRNs, the AVM, and its degeneration as a model to investigate the gut-brain axis. Work has begun to reveal links between the microbiome in the gut of humans and CNS development, psychiatric disorders and neurodegenerative disease. These data raise the important question of how is the microbiome influencing neuronal degeneration?
To address this question, Natalie is currently performing a screen of various strains of bacteria to see if any causes alterations in AVM degeneration. Normally, C. elegans are cultured on a specific strain of E. coli (OP50). In her screen, Natalie is culturing her worms on hundreds of different bacterial strains. Upon being raised on each of these different strains, the worms will have a different microbial gut environment. Natalie will examine these adult worms for differences in the AVM from adult worms raised on normal OP50. Any differences in the AVM could suggest that the microbial gut environment influences neurodegeneration. She can then follow up to dissect mechanistically how the microbiota of the gut regulates the AVM’s degradation.