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Division III: Alynda Wood, “The Molecular Biology of Memory”

Posted: May 09, 2012

Alynda Wood When Alynda Wood 09F transferred to Hampshire, the contrast with her previous college was immediately apparent. “Students at Hampshire live and breathe what they study,” she says. “It's really inspiring to be surrounded by so many people who love what they are doing.”

Wood’s Division III (senior) project studied learning in microscopic worms and is entitled “The Molecular Biology of Memory: Using RNAi Hypersensitive Strains of Caenorhabditis Elegans To Study Associative Learning.”

“I'm using a technique that basically turns genes off, and then seeing if they can still learn,” she said.

“These worms, Caenorhabditis Elegans, are great to work with because they have a very simple nervous system, and they’re easy to maintain in a laboratory,” Wood said. “I fed them in the presence of butanone, an odorous chemical. Expose them to food with a particular chemical, and they’ll learn to associate that chemical with food.”

Wood worked with three groups of worms, one left intact, one with the gene casy-1 removed, and one with the gene rrf-3 removed. “Casy-1 was thought to be necessary for a huge range of learning paradigms,” she says. She found that, given both groups’ reactions to the butanone, it was in fact not necessary for that type of learning.

The work with the rrf-3 worms was of interest “because animals without it are hypersensitive to RNA interference, and if they exhibit normal learning behavior, RNAi can be used in learning and memory studies, which hasn't really been done before,” she said. “It’s exciting because C. elegans neurons are typically resistant to RNAi, so it’s hard to use it to study behavior.”

Evolutionary biology professor Charles Ross said of Wood’s project: “Her work is incredibly interesting. It kind of pushes a lot of what we know about how memory forms, and what is memory.”

“She’s bridging two things—using a relatively powerful and relatively new technique and applying it to a cell type that really has been resistant to this kind of technique,” said Ross.

More about Wood's work >>

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