Open Access Open Access  Restricted Access Subscription or Fee Access

13 Memories of Worms and Flies: From Gene to Behavior

Catharine Rankin, Josh Dubnau


The power of the genetic approach to biological questions derives from the ability to forge links between reductionist and holistic levels of organization, but the links are largely inferred until the underlying mechanisms have been delineated in detail. This strategy was first used to dissect relatively simple biological systems such as those controlling growth and metabolism of cells. Then, the vastly more complex systems underlying embryonic development came into the sights of geneticists, largely relying on a few model organisms such as “the worm,” Caenorhabditis elegans, and “the fly,” Drosophila melanogaster. The result has been an astounding revolution in our understanding of morphogenesis across phyla. But the success of this tactic rested on the prior work of meticulous classical embryologists who had so carefully observed and described the phenotype: the development of embryos. The success of developmental genetics thus relied on a prior understanding of much of the phenomenology of embryonic development.

Today, the same strategy is being used to tackle the astounding complexity of memory. Again relying on model organisms such as “the worm” and “the fly,” geneticists are beginning to forge links between reductionist mechanism and holistic behavior. Once again, however, the success of this approach will hinge on our ability to follow the prior generation of behaviorists who so carefully characterized the phenotype, in this case, the psychology of memory.

In this chapter, we have attempted to provide a flavor for how this has proceeded so far and to give our vision for where this field will...

Full Text: