A network approach to discerning the identities of C. elegans in a free moving population
The study of C. elegans has led to ground-breaking discoveries in gene-function, neuronal circuits, and physiological responses. Subtle behavioral phenotypes, however, are often difficult to measure reproducibly. We have developed an experimental and computational infrastructure to simultaneously record and analyze the physical characteristics, movement, and social behaviors of dozens of interacting free-moving nematodes. Our algorithm implements a directed acyclic network that reconstructs the complex behavioral trajectories generated by individual C. elegans in a free moving population by chaining hundreds to thousands of short tracks into long contiguous trails. This technique allows for the high-throughput quantification of behavioral characteristics that require long-term observation of individual animals. The graphical interface we developed will enable researchers to uncover, in a reproducible manner, subtle time-dependent behavioral phenotypes that will allow dissection of the molecular mechanisms that give rise to organism-level behavior.