Behavior at the organismal and molecular levels: The case of C. elegans

Philosophy of Science 67 (3):288 (2000)
Abstract
Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) is a tiny worm that has become the focus of a large number of worldwide research projects examining its genetics, development, neuroscience, and behavior. Recently several groups of investigators have begun to tie together the behavior of the organism and the underlying genes, neural circuits, and molecular processes implemented in those circuits. Behavior is quintessentially organismal--it is the organism as a whole that moves and mates--but the explanations are devised at the molecular and neurocircuit levels, and tested in populations using protocols that span many levels of aggregation. Following a brief review of the main relevant features of C. elegans, I describe some of these circuits, and then discuss two contrasting approaches in behavioral genetics and neural network analysis of the worm. Finally, I outline the rudiments of a "field and focus" explanation model using the two contrasting approaches
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