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When you think of worms, what comes to mind? Maybe fishing or digging in the backyard. But, did you know worms are used in science too? The most common worm used in science is called C. Elegans. This is just a fancy latin term to describe these cool transparent worms so that scientists all over the world know what you are talking about.
These worms are so tiny you can only see them using a microscope. They also aren't brown or green like the worms you find outside, but they are clear. You can see all the way through them! This makes them really great for science and cool to work with.
C. Elegans are a model organism which means that their cells and what they are made of and how they function are actually quite similar to a lot of other organisms including humans. Despite the extreme differences in our appearance, scientists can work with C. Elegans in order to answer questions about other species including humans. Scientists are working hard to learn more about cells and how they play a role in common diseases. In order to know how cells work, we have to look deeper at the proteins of the cell since they are the molecular workers of the cell. Studying these little proteins causes a problem because we can't see inside the cell to see where they are or what they are doing. Therefore, there is a lot of problem solving and creativity that is needed to study the proteins involved in human cells and human diseases. The use of a model organism helps us solve some of these problems. We need C. Elegans and other model organisms to help us study proteins in order to answer the big question about what role cells play in common diseases. C. Elegans are very useful to help scientists answer questions about cancer, the nervous system and development.
There are many model organisms such as yeast, mice, and flies but C. Elegans are easy to use because they grow up in just 3 days! They are much easier to study in the lab than mice who take 2 months to become adults or even humans who take 20 years to reach adulthood. C. Elegans are also very useful to research because we know every one of their genes. *If you remember, genes are instructions housed in the nucleus of the cell that tell the cell what to look like and what to do* Another cool fact about these worms, is that they eat bacteria!
Now that we know that model organisms help us answer questions about proteins, let's explore exactly how scientists study these proteins. Since the role of proteins can't be observed through observation alone, scientists have to design experiments that allow them to infer the role of particular proteins. One way scientists do this is by getting rid of a protein in a cell and seeing what happens. One exciting way this is done is by interfering with how the proteins are made.
Click next and we will review how proteins are made!