Humble worm helps Queensland and US scientists in nerve research

May 01, 2012

Australian and US scientists have developed a new technology for studying the genetics of a common roundworm used to understand nerve development and nerve degeneration.

Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) scientists at The University of Queensland (UQ) in Brisbane, Australia have worked closely with researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, to develop the technology.

The work will allow neuroscientists working with the small , Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans), to study the genetics of its development and in greater detail.

It is hoped that the findings in these animals can be applied to higher organisms, such as humans.

QBI scientists are working on conditions for which there are currently no cures, such as diseases of the brain, , and stroke.

Dr Hang Lu of Georgia Institute and QBI's Dr Massimo Hilliard lead the teams that developed the automated system that manoeuvres these worms for study.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

“This 1 mm long animal is one of the simplest organisms with a nervous system, making it a very good model organism in neuroscience,” Dr Hilliard said.

“In addition, its DNA is known so we can alter the genes to piece together nerve cell function.”

C. elegans was the first multicellular organism to have its genome completely sequenced (in 1998).

Dr Lu said the new project enabled the worms to be moved into lateral positions, so they were easier to study in determining developmental and disease processes.

She said recently, microfluidic devices had been used for high-throughput screens, replacing traditional methods of manually handling C. elegans.

However, the orientation of nematodes within microfluidic devices is currently random and often not conducive to inspection, hindering visual analysis and overall throughput.

While previous studies had used methods to bias head and tail orientation, none of the existing techniques allow for orientation along the dorso-ventral body axis.

The curved device developed in the project encourages the worms to preferentially adjust themselves into a lateral position, instead of relying on the use of manual procedures.

“The lateral body orientation of C. elegans is commonly seen in freely-moving animals on an agar plate,” Dr Hilliard said.

“This orientation is the most useful for analyzing neuronal processes that travel along the antero-posterior axis, as well as processes that travel laterally across the worm body.

“In this work, we show that C. elegans preferentially adjust themselves into this lateral orientation as a result of the curved geometry of our device,” he said.

Explore further: Report on viruses looks beyond disease

Related Stories

Researchers probe nervous system repair

Mar 30, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- In humans, regeneration of the peripheral nervous system after injury remains a hit-or-miss affair, while brain and spinal cord damage usually results in lifelong disabilities.

Making the worms turn

Feb 03, 2012

To biophysicist Aravinthan Samuel, the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans provides a pathway to understanding the brain and nervous system, first of the worm, then of higher animals, and even, perhaps, of humans.

Live-animal nerve regeneration study gets a boost

Apr 11, 2008

An MIT team has improved upon its landmark technology reported last year in which the researchers used a fingernail-sized lab on a chip to image, perform surgery on and sort tiny worms to study nerve regeneration.

Recommended for you

Brand new technology detects probiotic organisms in food

7 hours ago

In the food industr, ity is very important to ensure the quality and safety of products consumed by the population to improve their properties and reduce foodborne illness. Therefore, a team of Mexican researchers ...

Protein evolution follows a modular principle

7 hours ago

Proteins impart shape and stability to cells, drive metabolic processes and transmit signals. To perform these manifold tasks, they fold into complex three-dimensional shapes. Scientists at the Max Planck ...

Report on viruses looks beyond disease

Jul 22, 2014

In contrast to their negative reputation as disease causing agents, some viruses can perform crucial biological and evolutionary functions that help to shape the world we live in today, according to a new report by the American ...

User comments : 0