Caenorhabditis elegans is a species of nematode – a model organism commonly used for study in biology and neurology, due to its simplicity as a life form. According to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, a model organism is a “research [organism] that serve[s] as a proxy for understanding the biology of humans.” These are some of the recent studies involving this roundworm.
The nervous system of C. elegans has been detailed in earlier academic work, but, in July 2019, researchers published their results of diagramming “all the connections between individual neurons, all the connections from neurons to muscles and other tissues, and all the synapses between muscle cells (as well as an estimate of the strengths of those synapses)” (Nield 2019). This is the most comprehensive look at a nervous system of an organism to date.
In another study from July 2019, scientists knocked out a gene that causes extended lifespan in the nematode. The results were surprising: test subjects without the gene were able to stave off microbial illnesses for twice the normal duration. They observed that this advantage was only present in the early stages of the worm’s life, prior to reproduction, which indicated that the species was showing preferential priority for reproductive success at the cost of investment into coping with bodily stressors – a trade-off of reproduction versus length of life.
In June of 2019, the species was used as a model organism for parasitic worms, even though C. elegans is not parasitic. The effects of cyanide were observed on the worm, and researchers noticed that the creature went into anaerobic respiration in order to minimize its exposure to the substance. The alternate respiration was fueled by a molecule that humans do not manufacture, rhodoquinone (RQ). This was ideal for attempting to discover a drug that would target the worm but not the human it is parasitizing. These results can transfer over to treating farm animals who have parasitic infections.
May of this year, the genome of Caenorhabditis elegans was resequenced, since scientists were utilizing different strains of the genome for experimentation and a consistent version was needed for accurate and reproducible findings. C. elegans was the “first multicellular eukaryote (animal, plant or fungus) to have its genome sequenced” (Ramanujan 2019). The initial sequencing took place in 1998. An additional 2% of genetic code was found when the genome was analyzed again.
The nematode will likely continue to be significant in scientific research.
Jovana Drinjakovic (2019, July 2). Unusual Parasite Metabolism Offers Hope for a Global Health Problem, Technology Networks, Retrieved from https://www.technologynetworks.com/
Chia-Yi Hou (2019, July 17). C. elegans Healthier Without Longevity Gene, The Scientist, Retrieved from https://www.the-scientist.com/
David Nield (2019, July 5). Scientists Have Finally Mapped The Entire Nervous System of a Model Organism, Science Alert, Retrieved from https://www.sciencealert.com/
Krishna Ramanujan (2019, May 23). Standard genome for heavily studied worm gets reboot, Cornell Chronicle, Retrieved from https://news.cornell.edu/
Using Research Organisms to Study Health and Disease (2017, October), National Institute of General Medical Sciences, Retrieved from https://www.nigms.nih.gov/
1998: Genome of Roundworm C. elegans Sequenced (2013, May 28), National Human Genome Research Institute, Retrieved from https://www.genome.gov/