Empowering the Future of Neuroscience

Empowering the Future of Neurosceince

Lightfoot Group

Kin-recognition is abundant in the natural world where it regulates diverse behaviours of myriad social interactions, including mating behaviours and predator-prey dynamics. Perhaps the most striking example of kin recognition is found in organisms with the capability to harm or even kill their relatives, whereby it is fundamental to prevent cannibalism of kin. Despite the prevalence of kin-recognition behaviours, many examples have only been described in non-model species currently lacking the necessary molecular, neurological, and evolutionary tools required to fully investigate these systems and the associated mechanisms. Furthermore, kin-recognition behaviours often act at the interface between neurobiology and immunology, making exploration of the behavioural processes additionally complex.

To overcome these challenges, we explore the kin-recognition system evident in the omnivorous roundworm, Pristionchus pacificus. This nematode has evolved teeth-like denticles and are capable of both feeding on bacteria and killing other nematode larvae, including those of its more famous cousin Caenorhabditis elegans. However, while P. pacificus kills other nematode species and strains, remarkably, it does not kill its own progeny or close relatives. We therefore investigate this kin-recognition system which protects kin from predation. Firstly, we are identifying the signals transmitted by P. pacificus to indicate kin and prevent attack by their relatives. Secondly, we are elucidating the receptors and circuits behind the killing decision and which distinguish between foreign and kin. Lastly, we are understanding the evolution of these processes by utilising a worldwide representation of P. pacificus from a vast strain library, many of which display strong killing interactions with each other.

Discover our homepage here.

To learn more about Dr. James Lightfoot, follow him on ORCID or Twitter.


  • Forward and Reverse Genetic screens – CRISPR/Cas9, RNAi
  • Automated behavioural tracking (predation and kin-recognition assays)
  • Calcium Imaging
  • Optogenetics

5 selected publications

  1. Lo, W.S., Roca, M., Dardiry, M., Mackie, M., Eberhardt, G., Witte, H., Hong, R., Sommer, R.J. and Lightfoot, J.W., (2022). Evolution and Diversity of TGF-β Pathways are Linked with Novel Developmental and Behavioral Traits. Molecular Biology and Evolution, 39(12), p.msac252.
  2. Lightfoot, J.W., Dardiry, M., Kalirad, A., Giaimo, S., Eberhardt, G., Witte, H., Wilecki, M., Rödelsperger, C., Traulsen, A. and Sommer, R.J., (2021). Sex or cannibalism: Polyphenism and kin recognition control social action strategies in nematodes. Science Advances, 7(35), p.eabg8042.. 2021Aug 25;7(35): eabg8042
  3. Han, Z., Lo, W.S., Lightfoot, J.W., Witte, H., Sun, S. and Sommer, R.J., (2020). Improving transgenesis efficiency and CRISPR-associated tools through codon optimization and native intron addition in Pristionchus nematodes. Genetics, 216(4), pp.947-956.
  4. Akduman, N., Lightfoot, J.W., Röseler, W., Witte, H., Lo, W.S., Rödelsperger, C. and Sommer, R.J., (2020). Bacterial vitamin B12 production enhances nematode predatory behavior. The ISME journal, 14(6), pp.1494-1507.
  5. Lightfoot, J.W., Wilecki, M., Rödelsperger, C., Moreno, E., Susoy, V., Witte, H. and Sommer, R.J., (2019). Small peptide–mediated self-recognition prevents cannibalism in predatory nematodes. Science, 364(6435), pp.86-89.