Collective feeding in C. elegans nematode worms

Statistical Physics and Complexity Group meeting

Collective feeding in C. elegans nematode worms

  • Event time: 11:30am until 12:30pm
  • Event date: 28th November 2018
  • Speaker: (MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine, The University of Edinburgh)
  • Location: Room 2511,

Event details

In complex biological systems, simple individual-level behavioral rules can give rise to emergent group-level behavior. While such collective behavior has been well studied in cells and larger organisms, the mesoscopic scale is less understood, as it is unclear which sensory inputs and physical processes matter a priori. Here, we investigate collective feeding in the roundworm C. elegans at this intermediate scale, using quantitative phenotyping and agent-based modeling to identify behavioral rules underlying both aggregation and swarming - a dynamic phenotype only observed at longer timescales. Using fluorescent multi-worm tracking, we quantify aggregation behavior in terms of individual dynamics and population-level statistics. Based on our quantification, we use agent-based simulations and approximate Bayesian inference to identify three key behavioral rules that give rise to aggregation: cluster-edge reversals, a density-dependent switch between crawling speeds, and taxis towards neighboring worms. Our simulations suggest that swarming is simply driven by local food depletion but otherwise employs the same behavioral mechanisms as the initial aggregation. Hence, mesoscopic  C. elegans uses mechanisms familiar from microscopic systems for aggregation, but implemented via more complex behaviors characteristic of macroscopic organisms.

Time permitting, I will also talk about exploring the benefits of collective feeding using minimal foraging models