Caenorhabditis elegans exhibits positive gravitaxis

Wei Long Chen, Hungtang Ko, Han Sheng Chuang, David M. Raizen, Haim H. Bau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Gravity plays an important role in most life forms on Earth. Yet, a complete molecular understanding of sensing and responding to gravity is lacking. While there are anatomical differences among animals, there is a remarkable conservation across phylogeny at the molecular level. Caenorhabditis elegans is suitable for gene discovery approaches that may help identify molecular mechanisms of gravity sensing. It is unknown whether C. elegans can sense the direction of gravity. Results: In aqueous solutions, motile C. elegans nematodes align their swimming direction with the gravity vector direction while immobile worms do not. The worms orient downward regardless of whether they are suspended in a solution less dense (downward sedimentation) or denser (upward sedimentation) than themselves. Gravitaxis is minimally affected by the animals’ gait but requires sensory cilia and dopamine neurotransmission, as well as motility; it does not require genes that function in the body touch response. Conclusions: Gravitaxis is not mediated by passive forces such as non-uniform mass distribution or hydrodynamic effects. Rather, it is mediated by active neural processes that involve sensory cilia and dopamine. C. elegans provides a genetically tractable system to study molecular and neural mechanisms of gravity sensing.

Original languageEnglish
Article number186
JournalBMC Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Dec

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biotechnology
  • Structural Biology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Plant Science
  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology


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