The colorful scribbles on this month’s cover of Cold Spring Harbor Protocols are tracks from one wild-type worm as it crawls through food on an agar dish.  Such images can reveal movement and behavioral patterns in C. elegans. (If you look closely, you can see evidence of pirouettes and foraging behavior.)

Initial methods to analyze behavioral phenotypes in C. elegans relied on human observation, and were therefore subjective and imprecise. Terms like “sluggish” or “loopy” were used to describe the uncoordinated activity of some mutants. And the procedures were often time-consuming, as the observer was required to monitor worm behavior in real time.

But, as described by Bill Schafer and colleagues in the current issue of Cold Spring Harbor Protocols, automated microscopy and image analysis systems for recording and analyzing worm behavior are much more robust.  They allow for precise quantitative definitions of behavioral phenotypes, and permit the analysis of behaviors that occur over long time periods or are difficult to detect by eye.

In the issue, Schafer and colleagues provide protocols for preparing media and worms for automated tracking and image analysis, describe high-throughput worm behavior analysis using Multiworm Tracker, and offer strategies for obtaining uniform illumination during worm tracking.  They also compare and contrast single- and multi-worm tracking approaches, and describe how comparisons of wild-type and genetically modified worms can be used to functionally dissect the molecular mechanisms behind specific behaviors.