Archive | December 2013

Green Eggs and Worms

Bring a conversation starter to your next holiday party: a plate of worm-shaped cookies!

Worm cookie!

Oh, honey, look, it laid an egg!

The recipe is for a fairly standard butter cookie and is adapted from Cook’s Country (note, this recipe will make a lot of worms):

Ingredients Preparation
2 3/4 cups all-purpose white flour
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon table salt
2 large egg yolks
3/8 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons/175 g) unsalted butter
1. Melt the butter and set aside to cool slightly.2. In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients and whisk together.

3. In a smaller bowl, whisk egg yolks, sour cream, and vanilla until combined. Slowly add melted butter, whisking constantly, until mixture is smooth and homogeneous.

4. Pour wet ingredient mixture into dry ingredients; mix until flour is completely incorporated and the dough roughly makes a ball.

5. Turn dough out onto sheet of parchment paper (lightly floured if necessary), and separate into two halves.

Once the dough is prepared, it will probably have to be chilled for about an hour in the refrigerator before it’s ready to be rolled out. At that point, pre-heat the oven to 325F (160C) and lay out a piece of parchment paper on the counter. Knead and then roll the dough out to about 1/8-inch thick (that’s just over 3 mm). You can lightly flour the paper to prevent sticking, but the more flour you use, the tougher your cookies will end up being. If the dough warms to the point where it’s too floppy to work with, just put it back in the refrigerator for a few minutes.

Cookies being rolled out

To prevent sticking, occasionally (and carefully) flip the dough sheet over.

Once the dough is rolled out, begin cutting out worm shapes. Use a sharp knife and don’t worry about gaps in the dough: you can recycle scraps into another dough ball and re-roll it out (possibly after re-chilling it).

Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes — ish. The cooking time varies somewhat depending on whether you’re using a conventional oven or a convection/fan oven. If it’s the latter, it might take much less time. I’d recommend setting a timer for about 7 minutes, rotating the cookie sheet, and then just keeping an eye on it until it’s golden brown around the edges.

Once they’re finished, you can decorate the cookies with a simple icing (1/2 cup icing sugar for every tablespoon of liquid such as milk or lemon juice) and sprinkles/colored sugar/chocolate chips, or frost them, or just dab a bit of icing on a few that you’ve decided look like the egg-layin’ type:

Worms! Lots of worms!

“I think some of those got a little more than golden brown.”
“…that’s just because I like my worms extra crispy.”

No matter what, worm cookies are a sure way to get people talking at your next get-together!


Worm sex

In the last post, I wrote about how C. elegans usually comes in the form of a self-fertilising hermaphrodite and that this is useful for studying behavioural genetics.  But, another important part of genetics is making crosses so that different genes can be exchanged between strains to study how they affect an organism.  Fortunately, there are also male C. elegans that are happy to exchange their genetic material with the hermaphrodites and although the hermaphrodites don’t strictly need the attention, the they don’t seem to mind.

Maureen Barr and Rene Garcia provide a technical, but not all together dry, description of the essentials in their WormBook chapter:

“In a stereotyped mating event, the male initially responds to hermaphrodite contact by placing his tail flush on her body; he begins moving backwards along her body until he reaches her head or tail, where he then turns via a sharp ventral coil. He continues backing until his tail contacts the vulva; at that region of the hermaphrodite, he stops moving, inserts his spicules, and ejaculates into the hermaphrodite uterus.”

This video from Steve Cook and Scott Emmons pretty much says (and shows!) it all: