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  • Book
    Jana Lim.
    The ability of organisms to adapt behavior to environmental changes as well as pass on information to their offspring is critical for survival. While the inheritance of traits is overwhelmingly governed by Mendelian genetics, there has been a growing body of evidence making the case for certain acquired traits, including complex ones such as behavioral tendencies and lifespan, to be passed on in a 'Lamarkian' fashion. My graduate research has encompassed two primary topics of research using the nematode C. elegans as a model system: first, transgenerational epigenetic inheritance of lifespan, and second, molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying a form of behavioral plasticity called salt aversive learning. This dissertation will first describe my explorations into whether environmentally-induced traits can be inherited in a non-genetic manner. I will then report on my discovery that a calcium/calmodulin-dependent kinase, CMK-1, is essential for salt aversive learning behavior in worms. In brief, we found that CMK-1 acts in the primary salt-sensing ASE neurons to regulate this behavior. By characterizing calcium flux using imaging and microfluidics, we revealed that cmk-1-deficient ASE neurons exhibit significant defects in calcium flux that correlate with behavior. Our study implicates this conserved protein as an essential cell-autonomous regulator for behavioral plasticity to environmental salt. In sum, I have used the roundworm C. elegans to shed light on the complex traits of lifespan and learning.