Examining Sex Differences in Sensory and Decision-making Behavior

Duncan Tanner and Dr. Gareth Harris


Sex differences across organisms has been an intense area of research over the last 50 years. Despite these efforts, the mechanisms underlying many behavioral differences, including, sensation, perception of sensory cues, decision-making, and how these occur at the level of the brain is still not yet understood. Sex differences have been identified from humans to worms. Several studies have demonstrated differences between human males and females in processes including, olfaction, thermoregulation, aggression, learning, and mood. This present study uses C. elegans as a model to investigate how sex differences can influence sensory behavior and decision-making when encountering conflicting cues. We use a multi-sensory behavioral assay to characterize the differences between hermaphrodite and male worms when escaping from a food lawn during exposure to repulsive odors, such as 2-nonanone. We find that male worms show a delayed food leaving during exposure to 2-nonanone, when compared to hermaphrodite worms. This result seems to be evident across multiple repulsive cues (undiluted 2-nonanone and benzaldehyde) as well as across multiple food types (E. coli OP50 and Comamonas sp). Overall, providing a platform to investigate how the nervous system differs across the sexes, and how this influences sensory-dependent decision-making behavior.

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