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J Neurosci. 2008 Nov 19;28(47):12546-57. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2857-08.2008.

Thermotaxis is a robust mechanism for thermoregulation in Caenorhabditis elegans nematodes.

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Program in Neuroscience, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305, USA.


Many biochemical networks are robust to variations in network or stimulus parameters. Although robustness is considered an important design principle of such networks, it is not known whether this principle also applies to higher-level biological processes such as animal behavior. In thermal gradients, Caenorhabditis elegans uses thermotaxis to bias its movement along the direction of the gradient. Here we develop a detailed, quantitative map of C. elegans thermotaxis and use these data to derive a computational model of thermotaxis in the soil, a natural environment of C. elegans. This computational analysis indicates that thermotaxis enables animals to avoid temperatures at which they cannot reproduce, to limit excursions from their adapted temperature, and to remain relatively close to the surface of the soil, where oxygen is abundant. Furthermore, our analysis reveals that this mechanism is robust to large variations in the parameters governing both worm locomotion and temperature fluctuations in the soil. We suggest that, similar to biochemical networks, animals evolve behavioral strategies that are robust, rather than strategies that rely on fine tuning of specific behavioral parameters.

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