Mathematical Biology Program

University of Utah
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Mathematical Biology Program


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Mathematical Biology seminar

Villu Maricq
Department of Biology, University of Utah
"Making Decisions: How a Simple Nervous System Controls Movement."
March 31, 2004 3:05pm in LCB 215

Abstract: How do memories form? How do we learn? How is decision-making governed? These processes all involve computations by the nervous system, which is plastic and subject to modification. The information processing occurs mostly at synapses - specialized points of contact between neurons. To better understand the development and function of neural circuits within the nervous system, we have focused on a behavior called Area Restricted Search (ARS). This foraging strategy is used by perhaps all animals to find essential resources. We study ARS in the nematode C. elegans because it is the only organism for which the complete neural circuitry has been reconstructed at the electron microscopic level. Furthermore, we can perturb nervous system function using the tools of genetics. In C. elegans, we have identified a small number of neurons that control ARS by regulating the direction and duration of movements. We perturb circuit function by targeting known genes for disruption or by isolating new genes in genetic screens. In this manner we have identified molecules that are required by specific synapses to control decision-making behavior.

For more information contact J. Keener, 1-6089