Research on Mapping the Mind of the Mating Male Wins 2013 AAAS Newcomb Cleveland Prize, Supported by The Fodor Family Trust

A comprehensive reconstruction of the neuronal circuits for mating behaviors in the adult male roundworm has won the 2013 Newcomb Cleveland Prize of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Scott W. Emmons | Courtesy of Albert Einstein College of Medicine

The Association's oldest prize, now supported by The Fodor Family Trust, the Newcomb Cleveland Prize annually recognizes the author or authors of an outstanding paper published in the Research Articles or Reports sections of the journal Science between June and the following May.

A Science paper by Travis A. Jarrell, Yi Wang, Scott W. Emmons and colleagues will receive the AAAS prize for 2013. The research was originally published by Science on 27 July 2012.

Jarrell and colleagues have drawn up a comprehensive map of neural connections in the posterior nervous system of an adult male nematode (Caenorhabditis elegans). This wiring diagram, known as a connectome, reveals the circuits in the animal's tail that influence nematode mating behavior.

“My co-authors and I are honored to receive this prestigious recognition from the society,” said Scott Emmons, who is a professor in the Dominick P. Purpura Department of Neuroscience and holds the Siegfried Ullmann Chair in Molecular Genetics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in Bronx, New York.  “We feel privileged to have been able to make a contribution to neuroscience at a time of renewed effort to understand the human brain, an effort that holds such great promise for improvement of human welfare.”

The researchers used a series of 5,000 electron micrographs to reconstruct every neuron and synapse, including chemical synapses and gap junctions, in the tail ganglia of a male roundworm. The resulting network highlights various classes of neurons, such as sensory neurons with specialized external structures; motor neurons that communicate exclusively with muscles or gonads; and interneurons that form connections with other neurons. This connectome helps to explain how sensory neurons interpret signals from the environment and translate them into mating behavior, including locomotion, posture and insemination.

"This one paper emerged as a tour de force from amongst many competitive entries," said Science Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt. "The robust model system will contribute significantly to our further understanding of the precise mapping between neuron activity and essential behaviors that ensure survival of the species."

Colorized scanning electron micrograph of the posterior half of a C. elegans male. | Courtesy of C. Marks and D.H.H.Hall

A related Perspective article, "Neuroscience: The Mind of a Male?," by Dmitri Chklovskii and Cornelia Bargmann from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute suggests that the fundamental principles gleaned from the male nematode may help researchers understand how nervous systems generate such behavior.

The paper, "The Connectome of a Decision-Making Neural Network," by T.A. Jarrell; Y. Wang; A.E. Bloniarz; M. Xu; D.H. Hall; S.W. Emmons at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, New York; J.N. Thomson; D.G. Albertson at Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, United Kingdom; A.E. Bloniarz at University of California, Berkeley in Berkeley, California; D.G. Albertson at University of California, San Francisco in San Francisco, California; C.A. Brittin at the University of Leeds, School of Computing in Leeds, United Kingdom can be found online at http://tinyurl.com/ozhwt8c. (Please note that the article is free without charge, but initial registration is required.)

The prize was established in 1923 with funds donated by Newcomb Cleveland of New York City and was originally called the AAAS Thousand Dollar Prize. It is now known as the AAAS Newcomb Cleveland Prize, and its value has been raised to $25,000. The winner also receives a prize plaque, complimentary registration and reimbursement for reasonable travel and hotel expenses to attend the AAAS Annual Meeting. Eligible Science papers include original research data, theory, or synthesis. They should represent a fundamental contribution to basic knowledge, or a technical achievement of far-reaching consequence. Winning nominations also should be a first-time publication of the author's own work.

The 2012-2013 Newcomb Cleveland Prize Selection Committee included Marcia McNutt, the Science  Editor-in-Chief as well as Science  Senior Editorial Board members Paul Alivisatos of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley; Michael Turner, Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of Chicago; Susan Rosenberg, Professor, Departments of Molecular and Human Genetics, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and Molecular Virology and Microbiology, Baylor College of Medicine; William Butz, World Population Program; Andrew Sugden,Science Deputy Editor, Biological Sciences; Valda Vinson, Science  Deputy Editor, Biological Sciences; and Barbara Jasny, Science  Deputy Editor, Commentary.

The Newcomb Cleveland Prize will be presented at the 180th AAAS Annual Meeting in Chicago, Illinois, which will take place 13-17 February 2014. The awards ceremony and reception will be held in the Rouge Ballroom at the Fairmont Chicago Hotel (200 North Columbus Drive) on Friday, 14 February, from 6:15 p.m. until 7:30 p.m.