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Nematodes (Caenorhabditis elegans) with Fluorescent Proteins

A nematode found in temperate regions across the Earth, Caenorhabditis elegans has been widely used in the study of genetics, development, and neurobiology. The image presented below features a genetically modified mutant of the nematode that expresses a version of the beta-integrin gene fused to green fluorescent protein (GFP). The image was provided by Xioping Xhu and John Plenefisch from the Department of Biology at the University of Toledo.

Caenorhabditis elegans with Fluorescent Proteins

As a nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans is a smooth-skinned, unsegmented worm frequently referred to as a roundworm. Relatively small, the body of the worm is only about 1 millimeter long and is tapered at both ends. In nature, Caenorhabditis elegans lives in the soil, often among rotting vegetation, where it feeds on microbes. The nematode is, perhaps, more familiar, however, as a laboratory subject, typically grown in petri dishes seeded with bacteria. Studied by scientists around the world, the nematode shares many fundamental biological characteristics with humans and other higher organisms. The organism’s genome, however, which was completely sequenced by late 1998, comprises only 97 megabases, rather than the 3000 associated with the human genome.

Confocal microscopy has played a central role in the accumulation of the massive amounts of scientific data regarding Caenorhabditis elegans. Indeed, the technique’s unsurpassed ability to provide high-resolution images of thick specimens has been particularly crucial in studies of the roundworm, as has optical sectioning and the ability to create accurate, highly detailed three-dimensional visualizations. Furthermore, when utilized in conjunction with fluorescent probes, confocal microscopy can reveal invaluable information about the organization of the organism’s anatomical features, such as nuclear pore complexes, while its use with time-lapse photography may yield important functional details, such as the processes involved with nervous system development. Together these findings may generate critical insight into many of underlying mysteries of modern biology.