Beginning in the spring of 2016 we began setting up a molecular biology laboratory focusing on C. elegans, a free-living nematode that has become an extremely useful model organism to study multiple aspects of cell biology, neurobiology and developmental biology. Studies initiated by Sydney Brenner in the early 1960’s have revealed a wealth of detailed information. The adult male worm has exactly 1031 cells; the adult self-fertilizing hermaphrodite has 959 cells. The cell lineage of each cell has been mapped. The adult worm has 302 neurons. Each of the 6393 connections between these neurons has been mapped. C. elegans was the first multicellular organism to have its whole genome sequenced. The genome contains an estimated 20,470 protein-coding genes.
There are many attributes of C. elegans biology that make it an ideal system for study at Drew. C. elegans are easy to propagate. The worms are maintained in petri dishes on a lawn of E. coli bacteria. Stocks are maintained at room temperature, brood sizes are large—~300 progeny—and the life cycle takes about 2.5 days. C. elegans can also be cultured in liquid media to obtain sufficient material for biochemical studies. Wild type and mutant strains are available from the Genetic Stock Center housed at the University of Minnesota. The worm community is very open: WormBase and WormBook provide very useful up to date protocols and resources. There is a New York Area Worm discussion group where students can meet other local C. elegans researchers.
There is a wide range of research tools available for C. elegans studies. Classical forward genetics using EMS mutagenesis is greatly facilitated by the use of self-fertilizing hermaphrodites and the large brood size. Reverse genetics can be carried out using genome wide RNAi libraries. These libraries are cloned into E. coli and the RNAi transferred when the worms eat the bacteria. Transgenic worms can be generated through microinjection into eggs in vivo, and by utilizing the CRISPR/Cas9 system. The use of fluorescent proteins linked to worm promoters allows visualization of gene expression in the transparent worms.
Finally, C. elegans represents a valuable model system to examine a large range of biological functions in neurobiology (Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, nicotine addiction), metabolic disease (insulin signalling and resistance, fat accumulation) and cancer signalling pathways. This variety of possible projects will allow students considerable flexibility in selecting projects. Current projects in the lab include developing models for Parkinson’s disease, Cystic Fibrosis and Autism Spectrum Disorder.
View Dr. Bayne’s PowerPoint, ‘Molecular Neurobiology of the Nematode Caenorhabditis elegans‘