Mechanisms of sensory control of developmental rate

Project: Research project

Project Details


Recently, a new type of a male-produced signal was discovered in C. elegans; it specifically accelerates a single stage of hermaphrodite development. Experiments are proposed that will identify the mechanisms that mediate production, detection, and implementation of this heretofore unknown signal. Leveraging the strengths of C. elegans as a model system, this project will investigate how environmental signals control development. Broader Impact activities that will improve STEM education and promote diversity were designed as a part of the research plan.

Intellectual Merit
Whereas the mechanisms of specific developmental events have been extensively studied, less is known about how the temporal unfolding of development is regulated. The tempo of development appears quite plastic because a number of environmental factors can alter developmental rate dramatically without adverse consequences to the organism. Understanding mechanisms that couple environmental signals to developmental rate is important.
The proposed work takes advantage of a peculiar phenomenon – in C. elegans, males produce signals that accelerate larval development of hermaphrodites, specifically the transition between the last juvenile stage and adulthood. Intriguingly, a similar phenomenon has been described in mice over half a century ago, but its mechanism remains largely unexplored. Benefiting from a wealth of knowledge about the control of developmental timing in C. elegans, this project will explore how the male-produced signal is sensed, how it accelerates maturation, and how it is integrated with other environmental signals that affect development.
To achieve this, the Ruvinsky Laboratory at Northwestern University developed three specific Objectives:
(1) To place the male-induced acceleration in the context of the known regulators of developmental timing;
(2) To elucidate the role of steroid signaling in the control of developmental rate;
(3) To identify new cells and pathways required for sending and receiving the “male” signal.

Broader Impacts are motivated by PI’s commitment to research, teaching, and outreach. They are focused on three activities that Broaden participation: (1) Engage high school science teachers in research. (2) Established relationships with teachers facilitate communication with their students in the classroom and in the lab. In the past, several high school students worked in the lab and later went on to major in science. (3) Some experiments in this proposal will be carried out by undergraduates as well as high school students and their teachers. These activities promote STEM education in the diverse Chicago School District because they energize and keep teachers up to date and reach students from underrepresented backgrounds who would otherwise have minimal exposure to science.
Effective start/end date8/15/187/31/22


  • National Science Foundation (IOS- 1755244)


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