Multigenic natural variation underlies Caenorhabditis elegans olfactory preference for the bacterial pathogen Serratia marcescens

Elizabeth E. Glater, Matthew V. Rockman, Cornelia I. Bargmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans can use olfaction to discriminate among different kinds of bacteria, its major food source. We asked how natural genetic variation contributes to choice behavior, focusing on differences in olfactory preference behavior between two wild-type C. elegans strains. The laboratory strain N2 strongly prefers the odor of Serratia marcescens, a soil bacterium that is pathogenic to C. elegans, to the odor of Escherichia coli, a commonly used laboratory food source. The divergent Hawaiian strain CB4856 has a weaker attraction to Serratia than the N2 strain, and this behavioral difference has a complex genetic basis. At least three quantitative trait loci (QTLs) from the CB4856 Hawaii strain (HW) with large effect sizes lead to reduced Serratia preference when introgressed into an N2 genetic background. These loci interact and have epistatic interactions with at least two antagonistic QTLs from HW that increase Serratia preference. The complex genetic architecture of this C. elegans trait is reminiscent of the architecture of mammalian metabolic and behavioral traits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)265-276
Number of pages12
JournalG3: Genes, Genomes, Genetics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2014



  • Caenorhabditis elegans
  • Olfaction natural variation
  • Serratia marcescens

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)

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