Sleep and Memory: Amelia Brown ‘18



If you’ve ever woken up after a bad night’s sleep and been unable to focus on anything throughout the day, you know that sleep has an effect on memory. But how closely are they related?

Biology major Amelia Brown ‘18 is studying the link as part of a Summer Scholars Project. She Is studying the behavior of Caenorhabditis elegans, a species of transparent roundworms, as they experience differing levels of sleep.

The organism was the first multicellular organism to have its whole genome sequenced. “C. elegans are a perfect subject to study because we know so much about them, and it’s easy to note changes in their biology,” Brown says.

She exposes the roundworms to chemicals early in their adult life cycle, noting how they respond. Then, after they sleep, she reintroduces the chemicals and measures how similar the response is depending on how much sleep they got. This method is called imprinting.

Matthew Nelson, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology, is Brown’s mentor for the project. He says that the project has roots in biology’s biggest questions.

“Amelia’s project is addressing one of nature’s greatest biological mysteries: why do animals sleep?” he says. “Long term memories are formed during sleep in more complex animals, like humans, and we propose that this is occurring in C. elegans as well. The worm provides us with an avenue for rapidly understanding how sleep and memory are linked with single cell and molecular resolution.”

Brown says that the Summer Scholars program gives her extra time to do in-depth, focused research.

“During the semester it can be difficult to get procedures done in between classes and work,” she says. “It’s great having the summer to really focus on my research. Even though I am less than a month into my project, I already feel like I’ve learned many new techniques that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise.”

Outside the lab, Brown is a member of the biology club and participates in SJU’s Big Brothers Big Sisters program, where she is a board member. She is also a McNulty Fellow for the summer.

–Jeffrey Martin ’04, ’05 (M.A.)

Office of University Communications


Summer Scholars Project Title: Sleep and Memory in Caenorhabditis elegans

Mentor: Matthew D. Nelson, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology

High School: South Broward High School, Hollywood, Florida