James Lee

James Lee

Postdoctoral Associate

Department: Lulu and Anthony Wang Laboratory of Neural Circuits and Behavior
Start Year: 2023
Starting Institution: The Rockefeller University
Current Institution: The Rockefeller University
Project Title: Dissecting the unusual birthing behavior of arsenic-resistant Tokorhabditis tufae

Arsenic is a potent neurotoxin that currently poisons 230 million humans worldwide through environmental contamination. The global arsenic crisis is expected to worsen with climate change—an alarming trend that is underscored by the lack of treatments for arsenic neurotoxicity. Recently, I isolated an arsenic-resistant and novel nematode species, Tokorhabditis tufae, from the arsenic-rich environment of Mono Lake (CA, USA). T. tufae can be grown in the laboratory and can survive 500 times the human lethal dose of arsenic. Therefore, T. tufae offers a unique opportunity to identify biological adaptations to arsenic that may inform treatments for arsenic neurotoxicity. A simple behavior of T. tufae that can be used to study this question is its unique birthing behavior: Instead of laying eggs like most nematodes, T. tufae retains its eggs, hatches them in its uterus, and births them as larvae. I will investigate the birthing behavior of T. tufae by immunostaining for the presence of a key serotonergic neuron that may control this behavior, based on its control of egg-laying in other nematodes. I will also use pharmacology to identify the neurotransmitters that regulate T. tufae birthing. Finally, I will use arsenic perturbation to assess the robustness of this behavior to arsenic. This work will reveal the neuronal control of T. tufae birthing behavior and allow me to build T. tufae into a novel model for investigating strategies to combat the global arsenic crisis.”