Model Organisms
Phage Plants Nematode Fly Rodents Humans

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.

NematodesOn establishing C. elegans as a model organism:
"I 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."

On the biological importance of studying wiggly living things:
"When you think about sequencing genomes, and that all these things are coming out of machines—contact 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 that’s what has been one of the worm’s attractions. Francis Crick always used to say, ‘Sydney likes worms because they wriggle and you can watch them wriggle.’

"I think that has also proved to be one of the worm’s successes—that somebody could come into a lab with very simple apparatus. That is, the hurdle to enter the field was very low—you just needed a dissecting microscope—and 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."

Sydney 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 Medical Center.



© Exploratorium


Origins Place People Ideas Tools Unwinding DNA Home Place People Ideas Tools exploratorium