A Transparent Window into Biology: A Primer on Caenorhabditis elegans.
Bottom Line: We survey the basic anatomical features, common technical approaches, and important discoveries in C. elegans research.Key to studying C. elegans has been the ability to address biological problems genetically, using both forward and reverse genetics, both at the level of the entire organism and at the level of the single, identified cell.These possibilities make C. elegans useful not only in research laboratories, but also in the classroom where it can be used to excite students who actually can see what is happening inside live cells and tissues.
Affiliation: Biology Department, The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC 20064 firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org.Show MeSH
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Mentions: Studies of cell and developmental biology that use C. elegans are greatly aided by the transparency of the animal, which allows researchers to examine development and changes due to mutations or altered environments at the level of a single, identified cell within the context of the entire living organism. Thus, many biological problems can be studied “in miniature” at the single-cell level, instead of in large numbers of cells in heterogeneous tissues. Transparency also enables a wealth of studies in living animals utilizing fluorescent protein reporters (Figure 1D and Figure 4B). By labeling cells and proteins in living cells, fluorescent proteins enable genetic screens to identify mutants defective in various cellular processes. In addition, fluorescent protein-based reporters (e.g., Cameleon and gCaMP3; Figure 4C), which fluoresce in response to calcium flux, provide neuron-specific detection of calcium flux under a fluorescent microscope and therefore allow researchers to measure electrophysiological activity in vivo (Kerr 2006). Furthermore, mapping of cell–cell and synaptic contacts can be accomplished by expressing complementary fragments of GFP in different cells (GRASP; Feinberg et al. 2008). Transparency also means that optogenetic tools, which alter the activity of individual neurons, are particularly effective in C. elegans (Husson et al. 2013). In all of these experiments, greater control of the animal’s position and environment can be accomplished by microfluidic devices in which individual worms are mounted in custom-designed channels allowing the application of various compounds or other agents while simultaneously monitoring fluorescent readout of gene regulation or electrophysiological activity by microscopy (Lockery 2007; San-Miguel and Lu 2013).
Affiliation: Biology Department, The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC 20064 email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com.