Worm Watch Lab is Live

We’re now live! This is the blog of Worm Watch Lab, a brand new Zooniverse project in association with the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Medical Research Foundation.

We need the public’s help in observing the behaviour of tiny nematode worms. When you classify on wormwatchlab.org you’re shown a video of a worm wriggling around. The aim of the game is to watch and wait for the worm to lay eggs, and to hit the ‘z’ key when they do. It’s very simple and strangely addictive. By watching these worms lay eggs, you’re helping to collect valuable data about genetics that will assist medical research.

Worm Watch Lab

The MRC have built tracking microscopes to record these videos of crawling worms. A USB microscope is mounted on a motorised stage connected to a computer. When the worm moves, the computer analyses the changing image and commands the stage to move to re-centre the worm in the field of view. Because the trackers work without supervision, they can run eight of them in parallel to collect a lot of video! It’s these movies that we need the public to help classify.

By watching movies of the nematode worms, we can understand how the brain works and how genes affect behaviour. The idea is that if a gene is involved in a visible behaviour, then mutations that break that gene might lead to detectable behavioural changes. The type of change gives us a hint about what the affected gene might be doing. Although it is small and has far fewer cells than we do, the worm used in these studies (called C. elegans) has almost as many genes as we do! We share a common ancestor with these worms, so many of their genes are closely related to human genes. This presents us with the opportunity to study the function of genes that are important for human brain function in an animal that is easier to handle, great for microscopy and genetics, and has a generation time of only a few days. It’s all quite amazing!

To get started visit www.wormwatchlab.org and follow the tutorial. You can also find Worm Watch Lab on Facebook and on Twitter.

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11 responses to “Worm Watch Lab is Live”

  1. Stephanie says :

    This is neat, but if you made a button to click instead of requiring a keypress, this would work great on mobile. I, for one, would be more likely to participate while lazing on my couch with a tablet than sitting at my desk 🙂

  2. Andre says :

    That’s a good point. I can’t promise anything since I’m not involved in the development, but it may be possible.

  3. cadnap says :

    The videos of the worms are not playing on my laptop but when i try to watch them on my phone then it will work but i can’t press Z on my phone.

    How can i get the videos to play?

    • ttfnrob says :

      We’re looking into making the site more compatible with mobile devices. Apologies for the inconvenience – and thanks for taking part.

  4. cpuguy says :

    c. elegans imaging is an ideal candidate for lensless microscopy which allows submicron resolution across the surface of a CMOS sensor indeed the UCLA team have also build tomographic imagers using an array of LEDs which would allow images to be depth-sliced to deduce 3D structures and could be combined with fluorescence to dynamically analyse the connectome http://www.plosone.org/article/fetchObject.action?uri=info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0045044.g005&representation=PNG_M

    • André Brown says :

      I’ve certainly thought about trying to do some holographic imaging of behaving worms. I think an even more relevant paper from the Ozcan group is this one:

      PDF from their site in case you don’t have access to PNAS:

      Click to access Ozcan_Group_PNAS_2012.pdf

      Would be great to try on worms swimming in 3D.

      • david moloney says :

        Thanks for the link … I hadn’t seen the latest work by Ozcan’s group

        Do you think Ozcan’s approach could be combined with laser flourescence to capture the entire connectome in realtime?

      • André Brown says :

        Light microscopy doesn’t have the resolution to image the connectome per se. But in worms, we already know the connectome and so it is possible to image the activity of identified neurons. I don’t think the lens-free systems are as good as standard microscopes in terms of sensitivity. The state of the art with other kinds of microscopes is getting pretty good now though. Here’s a really nice recent paper that created a stir at the last worm meeting:

        Here’s a description of the work:

      • cpuguy says :

        Ozcan’s paper says they can resolve down to .25um less than half the wavelength of the visible spectrum and better than an optical microscope by design

        In terms of sensitivity it should also be better as there are no optical losses to speak of, no aberations etc. And an enormous field of view

        numerical effects could be eliminated by using multiprecision arithmetic

        For me it seems like a match made in heaven

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