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Genetics. 2015 Jun;200(2):387-407. doi: 10.1534/genetics.115.176099.

A Transparent Window into Biology: A Primer on Caenorhabditis elegans.

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Biology Department, The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC 20064
Biology Department, Muhlenberg College, Allentown, Pennsylvania 18104
Department of Biological Sciences, Columbia University, New York, New York 10027

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A little over 50 years ago, Sydney Brenner had the foresight to develop the nematode (round worm) Caenorhabditis elegans as a genetic model for understanding questions of developmental biology and neurobiology. Over time, research on C. elegans has expanded to explore a wealth of diverse areas in modern biology including studies of the basic functions and interactions of eukaryotic cells, host-parasite interactions, and evolution. C. elegans has also become an important organism in which to study processes that go awry in human diseases. This primer introduces the organism and the many features that make it an outstanding experimental system, including its small size, rapid life cycle, transparency, and well-annotated genome. We survey the basic anatomical features, common technical approaches, and important discoveries in C. elegans research. Key to studying C. elegans has been the ability to address biological problems genetically, using both forward and reverse genetics, both at the level of the entire organism and at the level of the single, identified cell. These possibilities make C. elegans useful not only in research laboratories, but also in the classroom where it can be used to excite students who actually can see what is happening inside live cells and tissues.


C. elegans; Primer; nematodes; single-cell analysis; transparent genetic system

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