EECS500 Spring 2015 Department Colloquium

Randy Beer
The Whole Worm: Brain-Body-Environment Models of Caenorhabitis elegans
Indiana University
White 411
March 19, 2015

An important component of understanding how animals operate as integrated wholes involves building complete brain-body-environment models. This in turn requires an animal system for which detailed behavioral, biomechanical, and neuronal information is available. In this regard, knowledge of the behavior, anatomy, genetics, development and neural connectivity of the nematode worm C. elegans is perhaps the most complete of any animal, with significant progress now also being made on the electrophysiology of its nervous system. Because biological models are almost always underconstrained by available data, we employ an approach that combines multiple runs of constrained stochastic optimization with ensemble analysis. In order to demonstrate the feasibility of this approach to whole-animal modeling, I will describe an ensemble of integrated brain-body-environment models of C. elegans klinotaxis, a form of salt chemotaxis in which changes in direction are oriented towards the source through gradual continual adjustments. I will also present an information-theoretic analysis of these models which reveals how information about concentration changes flows through the neural circuits to guide behavior.


Randall D Beer received his Ph.D. in computer science in 1989. From 1989 to 2006, he was a professor of electrical engineering and computer science, biology, and cognitive science at Case Western Reserve University. He spent the 1995–1996 academic year as a visiting scientist at the Santa Fe Institute, where he also served as an external faculty member for the next 6 years. In 2006, he joined the Cognitive Science program at Indiana University, where he is currently a professor of Informatics and Computing, and affiliated with the Program in Neuroscience, the Indiana University Network Science Institute, the Center for Complex Networks and Systems Research, and the Center for the Integrative Study of Animal Behavior.