Roll maneuvers are essential for active reorientation of Caenorhabditis elegans in 3D media

Alejandro Bilbao, Amar K. Patel, Mizanur Rahman, Siva A. Vanapalli, Jerzy Blawzdziewicz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Locomotion of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans is a key observable used in investigations ranging from behavior to neuroscience to aging. However, while the natural environment of this model organism is 3D, quantitative investigations of its locomotion have been mostly limited to 2D motion. Here, we present a quantitative analysis of how the nematode reorients itself in 3D media. We identify a unique behavioral state of C. elegans-a roll maneuver-which is an essential component of 3D locomotion in burrowing and swimming. The rolls, associated with nonzero torsion of the nematode body, result in rotation of the plane of dorsoventral body undulations about the symmetry axis of the trajectory. When combined with planar turns in a new undulation plane, the rolls allow the nematode to reorient its body in any direction, thus enabling complete exploration of 3D space. The rolls observed in swimming are much faster than the ones in burrowing; we show that this difference stems from a purely hydrodynamic enhancement mechanism and not from a gait change or an increase in the body torsion. This result demonstrates that hydrodynamic viscous forces can enhance 3D reorientation in undulatory locomotion, in contrast to known hydrodynamic hindrance of both forward motion and planar turns.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E3616-E3625
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number16
StatePublished - 2018


  • 3D gait
  • Behavior
  • Caenorhabdtis elegans
  • Maneuverability
  • Undulatory locomotion


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