Cornelia Bargmann

Women in STEM
Women in STEM
Cornelia Bargmann

Birth: 1961

Specialty:  Neurobiology

Major Contributions:

Awarded $1 million Kauli Prize and the $3 million Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences

Elected to National Academy of Sciences

Vice President of Academic Affairs Rockefeller University

Former Head of Science Chan Zuckerberg Initiative

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Understanding the human nervous system is a daunting task that many neurobiologists are working on, but what if the key to understanding our behavior isn’t found in just human physiology? What if we were to study a similar system made of many of the same components, but on a much less complex scale?

That is one of the driving factors in Dr. Cornelia “Cori” Bargmann’s work with Caenorhabditis elegans a member of the nematode phylum. C. elegans is a transparent non-parasitic roundworm that has been the focus of Bargmann’s research since her days working as a post-doctoral researcher in molecular biology and neuroscience at MIT.  In 1981 she was awarded a degree in biochemistry from the University of Georgia followed six years later by her doctorate in cell biology from MIT. For her post-doc work she wanted to focus on animal behavior but she found that she didn’t like hurting furry animals and decided that she no longer wanted to work with the mice that are the common organism for these types of studies. That decision led her to working with nematodes at one of the first serious worm labs in America, which happened to be located at her alma mater.

Her work with c.elegans has led to many breakthroughs in the understanding of roundworms and the functions of their 302 neurons. By carefully using a laser to destroy specific neurons and tracking the changes in the worm’s behavior she was able to trace the pathways for many behaviors including hibernation and taste. Bargmann  was the first to discover that nematodes have a very sophisticated sense of smell with over 2000 odorant receptor genes, around twice that of rats.  These worms can sense thousands of different smells and will respond accordingly and these reactions can be traced from neurons to circuits to a worm’s behavioral decisions. 

Not only is she a professor at Rockefeller University in New York she also serves as its  Vice President of Academic Affairs and the Head of the Lulu and Anthony Wang  Laboratory of Neural Circuits and Behavior.  Bargmann leads a team whose current experiments explore how neuromodulatory signals are coupled to context and behavioral states, and how they affect the flow of information between neurons at different timescales.

Written by Angela Goad


The Rockefeller University: Cori Bargmann, Ph.D.

Laboratory of Neural Circuits and Behavior: What do we work on?

Wikipedia: Cornelia Bargmann

In Tiny Worm, Unlocking Secrets of the Brain

See Also:

Cori Bargmann: Genes, the Brain, and Behavior

Wikipedia: Nematode

Wikipedia: Caenorhabditis elegans