Animals are frequently challenged by either acute or chronic low O2 availability in their living environments. Interruption of O2 supply for more than a few minutes could lead to irreversible pathogenesis of many major causes of mortality in humans. Animals have evolved sophisticated systems to circumvent the effects caused by the variation in O2 tension. Despite intensive research, the molecular and neural circuit bases of acute and prolonged O2 responses remain unclear.
We are investigating acute and chronic O2 sensation in the nematode C. elegans. Studying O2 sensing in C. elegans provides many unique advantages over other systems. C. elegans robustly avoids O2 levels that are either too high or too low. It is amenable for high-throughput behavioural screens to identify functionally relevant molecules without prior knowledge, and its fully-constructed nervous system allows us to trace flow of information from sensory inputs to motor outputs. We will combine large-scale genetic screen, biochemistry, calcium imaging, optogenetics, and single neuron transcriptional profiling to delineate O2sensing mechanisms at both molecular and neural circuit levels. Our research has the potential to gain important new insights into the neuronal basis of behavioural and physiological adaptations that are important for an organism to survive better under extreme conditions.