2024 Grass Fellow Ana Lyons

Ana Lyons

Postdoctoral Fellow

Department: Neurology
Start Year: 2024
Starting Institution: University of California, San Francisco
Current Institution: University of California, San Francisco
Project Title: Advancing Tardigrades as an Emerging Model for Systems-level Neuroscience: Pioneering Imaging Techniques and Transgenics for Functional Neural Mapping
The microscopic animals known as tardigrades, with their unique combination of morphological simplicity and behavioral complexity, present an untapped opportunity for advancing systems-level neuroscience. Consisting of only a few thousand cells, this emerging model organism is among the smallest animals equipped with a nervous system, which includes a central brain, bilaterally symmetric ganglia, limbs, eyespots, and other sensory structures—enabling complex behaviors such as inter-leg coordination and taxis. More so, tardigrades are valuable for studying neuronal resilience, given their tolerance to extreme environmental conditions. This proposal bridges gaps in understanding tardigrade neuronal architecture and functional dynamics during behaviors, by leveraging the animals’ optical transparency for methods development in molecular mapping of neurons and real-time neuronal dynamics visualization. Here, I target two main goals: first, to create the most detailed neural mapping of a tardigrade species (Hypsibius exemplaris) to date, utilizing advanced imaging techniques and staining methods; and second, to develop and refine transgenic techniques, specifically employing transposon and CRISPR-based methods, to introduce pan-neuronal genetically encoded calcium indicators (GCaMP). Future studies will leverage these tools to map neuronal activity in freely behaving transgenic tardigrades, unraveling the mechanisms underlying their intricate behaviors and exceptional resilience, within a computationally feasible framework for systems neuroscience.