A multi-animal tracker for studying complex behaviors

Eyal Itskovits, Amir Levine, Ehud Cohen, Alon Zaslaver*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Background: Animals exhibit astonishingly complex behaviors. Studying the subtle features of these behaviors requires quantitative, high-throughput, and accurate systems that can cope with the often rich perplexing data. Results: Here, we present a Multi-Animal Tracker (MAT) that provides a user-friendly, end-to-end solution for imaging, tracking, and analyzing complex behaviors of multiple animals simultaneously. At the core of the tracker is a machine learning algorithm that provides immense flexibility to image various animals (e.g., worms, flies, zebrafish, etc.) under different experimental setups and conditions. Focusing on C. elegans worms, we demonstrate the vast advantages of using this MAT in studying complex behaviors. Beginning with chemotaxis, we show that approximately 100 animals can be tracked simultaneously, providing rich behavioral data. Interestingly, we reveal that worms' directional changes are biased, rather than random - a strategy that significantly enhances chemotaxis performance. Next, we show that worms can integrate environmental information and that directional changes mediate the enhanced chemotaxis towards richer environments. Finally, offering high-throughput and accurate tracking, we show that the system is highly suitable for longitudinal studies of aging- and proteotoxicity-associated locomotion deficits, enabling large-scale drug and genetic screens. Conclusions: Together, our tracker provides a powerful and simple system to study complex behaviors in a quantitative, high-throughput, and accurate manner.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number29
JournalBMC Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 6 Apr 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Zaslaver et al.


  • C. elegans
  • Chemotaxis
  • Image analyses
  • Locomotion
  • Multi-animal tracking


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