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Image of the Week: C. elegans

9 May, 2014

B0002177 hatching nematode (Caenorhabditis)

This week’s image shows the nematode worm, Caenorhabditis elegans, hatching as seen under a light microscope.

A small, transparent, soil-dwelling nematode worm might not be the sort of thing that usually catches your attention, but C .elegans is a bit of a superstar when it comes to genetics and its a very useful model organism.

Sometimes know as “the worm”, C. elegans  was originally chosen for study in 1965 by Sydney Brenner. It was the simplicity of the organism that made it a good candidate for his work on nervous system development. By the mid 1980s, a complete description of the worm’s cellular development (from egg to adult) and a complete mapping of the C. elegans nervous system had been achieved.

C. elegans was the first animal to have its entire genome sequenced, and much of this work was carried out at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. The draft sequence was completed in 1998, with the full sequence of over 100 million base pairs completed in 2003.

Although C. elegans itself is a harmless organism, it is related to some major parasites. Research using C.elegans may help us better understand human diseases caused by other nematodes, such as elephantiasis and river blindness. Dr Matt Berriman at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute is working on the genomics of neglected tropical diseases and his work includes using our knowledge of C.elegans to help to develop advance sequencing techniques for parasitic worms.

This humble worm has been the subject of many thousands of research papers and no less than three Nobel prizes have been awarded for research in this area, so perhaps you’ll see it in a whole new light in future!

Image credit: The Sanger Institute, Wellcome Images

Wellcome Images is one of the world’s richest and most unusual collections, with themes ranging from medical and social history to contemporary healthcare and biomedical science. Over 100,000 high resolution images from our historical collections are now free to use under the Creative Commons-Attribution only (CC-BY) licence.

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