Paul Sternberg is interested in how genes and genomes specify development and control stereotyped behavior.
Molecular Genetics of Cell Migration
The migration of cells within an organism is not only a fascinating aspect of developmental biology but also relevant to understanding the function of genes acting in metastatic cancer cells. We are using Caenorhabditis elegans to study migrations of individual types of cells in vivo. We are particularly interested in the roles of secreted proteases and protease inhibitors in altering the extracellular matrix during cell migration and have established a system to study, in the context of a whole worm, the integrity and constituents of extracellular matrix. Using both loss- and gain-of-function genetics, we plan to continue to define the roles of these important cell regulators.
Small Molecules Regulating Social Behavior
We have discovered, with collaborators, a set of small molecules (ascarosides) that mediate nematode social behaviors such as sexual attraction, aggregation, and population density–dependent life cycle choices. Ascarosides are also recognized by predatory fungi that prey on nematodes. We are interested in defining the biosynthetic and regulatory pathways that lead to the dynamic and appropriate production of these small molecules, using Caenorhabditis elegans as a model. We are using both chemical and behavioral assays to identify the genes necessary to produce and degrade ascarosides in response to developmental and environmental signals.
Regulation of Sleep
We have developed Caenorhabditis elegans as a model for analyzing the neural circuit modulation during a sleep-like state. We have also found a set of neuropeptides that induce sleep. We are investigating the cellular and molecular targets (neural and other) of these neuropeptides to understand how global changes in state are manifest in individual cells. We use molecular genetics, simple behavioral assays, and optogenetics to analyze gene function during worm sleep.