Forsyth scientists develop system for automated analysis of behavior

Boston -- The Forsyth Institute today announced the creation of a new computerized system for monitoring, analyzing and controlling cognitive science experiments. For the first time, researchers will have the ability to automate the analysis of animal behavior, while also conducting functional experiments on a large number of subjects simultaneously. The Forsyth Automated Training Apparatus, (ATA), also provides an efficient methodology to conduct drug screening and potentially shorten the development time for new drugs.

Michael Levin, Ph.D., Director of the Forsyth Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology, and his team, use the flatworm, Planaria, to investigate biophysical control mechanisms in the study of regeneration and memory. They have also developed a number of techniques to manipulate the nervous system of embryonic frog and fish embryos, and are now investigating how behavior and memory is determined by central nervous system structure. The Levin Lab developed this computer-controlled system to overcome a number of problems that exist in current attempts to understand how the brain and nervous system give rise to memory, behavior, and cognition by studying animal model systems.

The challenges in studying animal behavior include:

  • Large amounts of time needed to get statistically-meaningful data (having to watch an animal in detail over multiple 24-hour periods is often impractical and gives rise to operator tedium);
  • observer bias and difficulty of objective, quantitative measurements of behavior and memory;
  • oversensitization of subject animals from handling;
  • inconsistencies in protocols and controls, making it difficult for other laboratories to repeat experiments and verify their results;
  • difficulty in making primary data available to other groups in the field.

Previous efforts to automate behavioral experiments have primarily focused on larger animals such

Contact: Jennifer Kelly
Forsyth Institute

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