In our research we use the model organism C. elegans, a free-living soil based roundworm. Dr. Portman's lab uses several approaches, including a novel technique to sex-reverse the nervous system of our worms, to study the above questions. Former students and post-docs in the lab have investigated sex differences in olfaction and locomotion. Currently, we are working on understanding a sex difference in exploration. Males explore to a much greater extent than do hermaphrodites in this species. We find that the difference in exploration can be traced to a single gene product, expressed in a single pair of sensory neurons in C. elegans hermaphrodites. Forcing the expression of this gene in males, or sex reversing the nervous system can lead to hermaphrodite-like behavior in male worms. We are currently investigating the link between this gene and food sensation as well as what kind of evolutionary advantage this sex difference confers upon C. elegans males.
Additional projects that I am working on in Dr. Portman's lab, with the help of two talented undergraduate students, Teigan Ruster and Andy Spitzberg, include sex differences in neuropeptide signaling and sex differences in the dauer alternate life stage decision. All of these projects ultimately help us to understand how sex differences in the brain are generated and regulated, what the physical substrates of the differences are, and how such differences interact with environmental stimuli to produce unique behavioral outputs and differential disease susceptibility.
NSC 201P: Basic Lab in Neurobiology
NSC 301: Senior Seminar
BCS 204: Lab in Cognitive Neuroscience
NSC/BCS 243: Neurochemical Foundations of Behavior
NSC/BCS 244: Neuroethology
NSC/BCS 246: Biology of Mental Disorders