Nematodes and Temperature


Nematodes, more commonly known as round worms, are small worm-like animals that are about 1 mm long (just visible to the naked eye).  They occupy a number of ecological niches, for example soil and decomposing organic material, and can also cause disease in plants and animals.  I work on Caenorhabditis elegans which is one of main model organisms used by scientist.  C. elegans has been studied by geneticists for many decades and have become an invaluable tool in investigating topics as diverse as aging and spindle assembly. By learning about how fundamental processed work in these simple systems we hope to learn things that can be applied to more complex and harder to study organisms.   

As cold blooded organisms, nematodes do not directly regulate their body temperature.  This can be problematic as the soil in which they live is subjected to daily and seasonal changes in temperature.   As parts of the life cycle of nematodes are sensitive to extremes of heat and cold, nematodes have evolved behaviors that allow them to seek out their preferred temperatures and can therefore regulate their body temperature indirectly.  On a physiological level, their fertility is sensitive to temperature and they have an optimum temperature as well as upper and lower temperature limits for their fertility.  We investigate the effects of temperature on fitness in C. elegans and its sister species C. briggsae.  Also we collaborate with the lab of Ralf Sommer from the Max Planck institute for Developmental biology in Tübingen on a project using another nematode called Pristionchus pacificus.

Caenorhabditis elegans
Pristionchus pacificus