C. elegans is probably the most versatile nematode’s known to molecular and developmental biotechnologists. It has been in use in laboratories since 1974 and was the first multicellular organism to have its entire genome sequenced. As one of the simplest organisms with a nervous system, it is a favorite research specimen of neurobiologists world-wide.
On May 6th, Science Express published an article by American and Israeli scientists that once again highlighted the versatility of C. elegans in neurobiology research. According to the press release in EurekAlert! “a breakthrough about the formation and maintenance of tree-like nerve cell structures could have future applications in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases and the repair of injuries in which neurons are damaged.” The researchers showed that two neurons (called PVDs) were required for reception of strong mechanical stimuli in the nematode which also elaborate neuronal trees comprising structural units called ‘menorahs,’ because they look like multi-branched candelabra. They then identified the gene EFF-1 as being responsible for pruning excess or abnormal branches thereby serving as part of a quality control process that is important for sculpting and maintenance of complicated menorahs.
If the results can be “humanized” it may allow for future repair of brains and spinal cord injury as well as other applications in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.
Oren-Suissa M, Hall DH, Treinin M, Shemer G, & Podbilewicz B (2010). The Fusogen EFF-1 Controls Sculpting of Mechanosensory Dendrites. Science (New York, N.Y.) PMID: 20448153
See the video below which I like to call: An Ode to the Nematode