It’s been more than a year since we launched Worm Watch Lab, a citizen science project in which people watch videos of tiny nematode worms. So what’s been spotted in the intervening year? Vicky Butt, a summer student in the Behavioural Genomics Lab at the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre, brings us up to date and explains why we need your help more than ever.
It’s been a busy year for the Worm Watch Lab. Since going live on 25 July 2013, 6,500 people have watched videos of nematode worms laying eggs almost 200,000 times.
Just like other Zooniverse projects ― such as Galaxy Zoo ― anyone can sign up to be a worm watcher. The idea is that they watch 30-second videos of the worms, Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans), and press ‘z’ on their keyboard whenever they see the worm lay an egg.
Impressive worm-tracking cameras attached to microscopes make videos of each worm strain. There are more than 300 strains, each with a different mutation. But why are we looking at the worms like this? It’s because looking at how the mutation affects egg-laying is an easily visible way of getting clues about what the mutation does. Read more
A nematode worm (Flickr/snickclunk)
What can sending tiny worms into space tell us about ageing? And is it significant that they can survive a crash landing back to Earth? Ten years after the Columbia space shuttle burnt up on re-entry into the atmosphere, Ellen Charman speaks to Dr Nate Szewczyk from the MRC/Arthritis Research UK Centre for Musculoskeletal Ageing about putting Caenorhabditis elegans into orbit.
When the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas in February 2003, tragically killing all seven of its crew, it was expected that the 80 science experiments on board would also be destroyed.
However a week after the accident, five of the six thermos-sized canisters on board — containing petri dishes of C. elegans — were found intact. Close inspection under the microscope revealed that all but one of the canisters contained wriggling worms.
Dr Nate Szewczyk, who was working at NASA at the time, says that these unexpected events yielded important insights.
“It showed that it is possible for multi-celled animals to come through the atmosphere unscathed and is evidence of the spread of life between planets. It also fits with the origin of life concept whereby the very first molecules travelled to earth embedded in meteorites.” Read more
Andre Brown, a researcher at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, needs your help with watching thousands of hours of videos of nematode worms. Here he tells you what his research into the genetics of the worm’s nervous system will gain from you turning citizen scientist and getting involved in Worm Watch Lab.
I remember when it first struck me. It was a normal day a couple of years ago and I was going about my business in the lab. I’d just finished recording some videos of crawling nematode worms and was looking forward to seeing what I’d captured.
But I ran into a problem: we’d already recorded so many videos that my portable hard drive was full, so I couldn’t transfer the day’s batch to my laptop for viewing. We were recording videos from eight microscopes at the same time so they were adding up quickly. That was when I knew we needed help. Read more