Caenorhabditis elegans, a nearly transparent nematode (round worm) about one millimeter long, is rasied by the thousands in laboratory petri dishes. C. elegans is used for studying the genetics of development and other physiological processes including nerve function and aging. Its transparent body allows researchers to see and image stages of development. Its genome has been sequenced, which also recommmends the little worm to researchers, as does its short life cycle—it develops from a single cell to an adult in less than four days.
establishing C. elegans as a model organism:
went to look for a multicellular organism that...has many different kinds of cells, but which would be finite.
That is, at the end I could say, I know everything I can describe
about this organism. And that we would use this organism to
try to discover how the genes worked. And it had to fulfill certain
conditions to be an experimental organism.
After searching through these conditions, C. elegans emerged
as the successful candidate."
the biological importance of studying wiggly living things:
you think about sequencing genomes, and that all these things are
coming out of machinescontact with the world of biology is
getting lost. I wanted people to feel they could come in and actually
look at a real animal. And thats what has been one of the
worms attractions. Francis Crick always used to say, Sydney
likes worms because they wriggle and you can watch them wriggle.
that has also proved to be one of the worms successesthat
somebody could come into a lab with very simple apparatus. That
is, the hurdle to enter the field was very lowyou just needed
a dissecting microscopeand within a few weeks you could be
doing significant biological experiments on your own! And for young
students, this is what you need to get them interested in the field."
Brenner, Research professor, Salk Institute
For more information
on C. elegans as a model organism, see the C.
Elegans WWW Server, from the University of Texas Southwestern