A Science Driven Life

An un-edited blog about science, discovery, technology, travel and the occasional whiskey

C. Elegans, one of the most important organisms in science, “do the Harlem shake!”

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{{Description=en:category:Caenorhabditis elegans |Source=Originally from [http://en.wikipedia.org en.wikipedia]; description page is/was [http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Image%3AAdult_worm.jpg here]. (Original text : ''Don

Information| |Description = An adult hermaphrodite C. elegans worm |Author = Zeynep F. Altun, http://www.wormatlas.org

by Michael Mohammadi

I tend to not get caught up in viral video fads and am generally one of the last people I know to hear about them (case in point- my boss told me about Gangnam style in late November at a pub in Ireland).  That said, I’ll be the first to admit I tend to find them highly entertaining.  Such was the case the first video I saw of the Harlem shake– I spent an hour watching the many different renditions.  I still don’t know why I find them so hilarious, I guess I’m just easily amused.

A friend posted this today on Facebook- it’s of C. Elegans doing the Harlem shake.  How is a dish of worms dancing to a viral video relevant to a science blog?  Well, I guess it’s not that relevant…but let me try.

Caenorhabditis elegans (as it is formally named) is a small, transparent roundworm that is widely used in biomedical research.  First established as a research tool in 1963 by Syndey Brenner (Nobel laureate for his work on the genetic regulation of cell death as well as developmental biology) to study neural development, C. Elegans has become one of the most widely studied organisms in all of science.  Its genome published in 1998 was a first for a multi-cellular organism and the transparent nature of the worm makes it ideal for microscopy and fluorescence imaging.  Especially useful to scientists is that every somatic cell of the C. Elegans is mapped and researchers can use targeted approaches to perturb and measure specific behaviors to better understand the role of individual signaling pathways and cells with a high degree of certainty.

Longitudinal section through the C. Elegans organism. Sketch based on The Worm Atlas and others - From Wikimedia Commons

Longitudinal section through the C. Elegans organism. Sketch based on The Worm Atlas and others – From Wikimedia Commons

Along with Brenner (and Robert Horvitz and John Sulston of whom he shared his prize), two other Nobel prizes were awarded based on work with this little worm.  In 2006 Fire and Mello won a Nobel for their work on RNAi (very cool technique that allows researchers to silence genes) and in 2008 Martin Chalfie who for a long time used C. Elegans for imaging with GFP won a Nobel prize (with Roger Tsien and Osamu Shimomura).  Hundreds of other labs around the world use C. Elegans to study things like the genetics of axonal regeneration and development, how the properties of an organism are encoded in its genome, and how neural circuits control and link to behavior. Suffice it to say that C. Elegans may be the most important nematode on Earth!

So now that you have some perspective on the importance of C. Elegans in science and research we can finally enjoy and appreciate…the C. Elegans Harlem Shake.

(warning: I’ve probably built this up a lot and I realize it’s not that funny but scientists tend to have a weird sense of humor):

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Written by Michael Mohammadi

April 13, 2013 at 22:01

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