My lab is focused on understanding how cells and organisms make decisions. In particular we want to uncover how the dynamics of the underlying molecular and neural circuits lead to signal integration and decision-making.
Our work focuses on studying the dynamics of neural circuits in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans to understand how these animals make behavioral choices, and on the dynamics of molecular circuits in stem cells that lead to specific fate choices during development. In either case, we strive to understand the system well enough to be able to enforce specific decisions by directly manipulating the relevant dynamics. In the process, we develop and build novel optical, microscopy, image processing, and statistical tools.
As an Innovation Fund investigator, Ramanathan and his lab are teaming up with the lab of Niels Ringstad, Ph.D., to investigate how the nervous system mediates behavior to avoid dangerous pathogens. Ringstad studies the nervous system using C. elegans, a free-living worm, and has developed a novel method to record neuron activity; Ramanathan is interested in understanding how neural circuits drive certain behavioral decisions. Together, they will use the C. elegans model, along with cutting-edge microscopy and statistical tools, to map how neural circuits are affected by infections. They will also seek to identify the genetic changes that accompany modification in the neural circuits. The importance of interactions between the nervous and immune systems and their impact on human health have become increasingly clear, and results from this project could provide important insights into mechanisms of behavioral change induced by infection.