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The International Worm Meeting

Every two years, the community of worm researchers meets in Los Angeles for the International C. elegans Meeting.  Sometimes people are surprised that there are 1500 people that are willing to come from all over the world to the UCLA campus to talk about worm science for days on end, but it’s actually a pretty common feature of a scientist’s life, and worm researchers are no exception.

What do we do at these meetings?  One of the main reasons people go is to keep up to date with the latest work in the field, so a lot of the time is spent watching other researchers speak about their work in lecture theatres.

presentation in main auditorium

A presentation in the main auditorium at the 2013 worm meeting.

This is nice because you can often hear about work in progress before it’s been published in journals (which are the main way that scientific results are communicated).  It’s also an excellent opportunity for more informal interactions.  This is where you can learn about which techniques work well and which are a pain to use.  You can brainstorm with your friends or people you just met and if you happen to come up with an idea you’re both excited about you might even initiate a collaboration.  These more informal interactions are difficult to reproduce without a face-to-face meeting.  That’s why scientific meetings are important and why they probably won’t go away despite the increasing ease of communicating online.

Meetings are also a good way of fostering a community spirit, and what better way to do that than through humour?  At the end of the meeting Curtis Loer and Morris Maduro put together a fantastic Worm Variety Show.  The best part is that it’s available online (warning, extremely nerdy jokes that often require abnormal familiarity with worms and/or genetics to understand!).  Perhaps the best part is The Lab, a spoof of The Office (at 52:28 in the video) which you’ll probably appreciate if you’ve spent much time working in a biology lab.  Enjoy!

Egg laying up close and personal

I hope you’ve been enjoying watching videos of crawling worms.  With some patience, you may have even already found some egg laying events.  If so, good work and thanks!

You may be wondering though, how are the eggs actually laid?  What does it look like?  You can’t make out much detail in the tracking videos where we need to be able to see the whole worm.  The eggs basically just look like little ovals that pop instantaneously out of the worm.  But with a higher powered microscope it’s possible to zoom in and make out details of the worm’s vulva and even to see the individual cells that make up the embryo in the egg!

Here’s a video made by my Medical Research Council colleague Robyn Branicky that shows very clearly just what laying a worm egg looks like.

Even the adult worm has fewer than 1000 cells, but it develops these quite complex structures that can perform an amazing variety of functions.  I find it beautiful.

Let the egg hunting begin!

Welcome Worm Watchers and curious citizens. I’m excited that the project has launched and I’m looking forward to seeing what you make of our beautiful worms. By taking part in this project you’re joining a community of thousands of scientists around the world who are fascinated by a tiny animal: Caenorhabditis elegans, or C. elegans for short. Some are working on how worms age, others on how they develop. My main current interest is how they behave (and misbehave when mutated).

In the coming weeks, I will use this blog to explain something of the biology of C. elegans, how it is used in very diverse fields, and introduce you to some of the worm enthusiasts who have made it one of the best studied animals on the planet. I also plan to introduce you to some of the mutants that you will find in the movies on the classification site. If you watch enough, you will find that many of them are memorable characters. The worm in this video has a mutation in a gene called dpy-20 (dpy stands for dumpy), which is among the cutest mutants:

This is also a good chance to see a worm laying an egg if you haven’t already. This one lays two eggs around 9:19 and then another one at 11:14. Can you find the others?