This worm – Caenorhabditis elegans – may look ordinary, but it is one of the greatest allies of scientific research, having helped three teams of scientists win Nobel Prizes. Like humans, it is a eukaryote – its cells have complex cellular machinery wrapped up in membranes – and its digestive, nervous and reproductive systems are fundamentally like ours. This similarity makes the worm a helpful analogue for studying human biology. With fewer than 1000 cells, the worm’s diminutive size facilitates its use as a model system. And scientists have traced every step of cell division from the larval stage to fully-grown adult. C. elegans was also the first multi-cellular organism to have its genome completely sequenced, which supports our understanding of the human genome. Mapping the worm’s neural circuitry – made up of 302 neurons – has yielded insights into how our own brains are put together.
Written by Charles Harvey
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.