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1.  Microfluidic chamber arrays for whole-organism behavior-based chemical screening† 
Lab on a chip  2011;11(21):3689-3697.
The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans is an important model organism in genetic research and drug screening because of its relative simplicity, ease of maintenance, amenability to simple genetic manipulation, and relevance to human biology. However, their small size and mobility make nematodes difficult to physically manipulate, particularly with spatial and temporal precision. We have developed a microfluidic device to overcome these challenges and enable fast behavior-based chemical screening in C. elegans. The key components of this easy-to-use device allow rapid loading and housing of C. elegans in a chamber array for chemical screening. A simple two-step loading process enables simultaneous loading of a large number of animals within a few minutes without using any expensive/active off-chip components. In addition, chemicals can be precisely delivered to the worms and exchanged with high temporal precision. To demonstrate this feature and the ability to measure time dependent responses to chemicals, we characterize the transient response of worms exposed to different concentrations of anesthetics. We then use the device to study the effect of chemical signals from hermaphrodite worms on male behavior. The ability of the device to maintain a large number of free moving animals in one field of view over a long period of time permits us to demonstrate an increase in the incidence of a specific behavior in males subjected to worm-conditioned medium. Because our device allows monitoring of a large number of worms with single-animal resolution, we envision that this platform will greatly expedite chemical screening in C. elegans.
PMCID: PMC3924777  PMID: 21935539
2.  Microsporidia-nematode associations in methane seeps reveal basal fungal parasitism in the deep sea 
The deep sea is Earth's largest habitat but little is known about the nature of deep-sea parasitism. In contrast to a few characterized cases of bacterial and protistan parasites, the existence and biological significance of deep-sea parasitic fungi is yet to be understood. Here we report the discovery of a fungus-related parasitic microsporidium, Nematocenator marisprofundi n. gen. n. sp. that infects benthic nematodes at methane seeps on the Pacific Ocean floor. This infection is species-specific and has been temporally and spatially stable over 2 years of sampling, indicating an ecologically consistent host-parasite interaction. A high distribution of spores in the reproductive tracts of infected males and females and their absence from host nematodes' intestines suggests a sexual transmission strategy in contrast to the fecal-oral transmission of most microsporidia. N. marisprofundi targets the host's body wall muscles causing cell lysis, and in severe infection even muscle filament degradation. Phylogenetic analyses placed N. marisprofundi in a novel and basal clade not closely related to any described microsporidia clade, suggesting either that microsporidia-nematode parasitism occurred early in microsporidia evolution or that host specialization occurred late in an ancient deep-sea microsporidian lineage. Our findings reveal that methane seeps support complex ecosystems involving interkingdom interactions between bacteria, nematodes, and parasitic fungi and that microsporidia parasitism exists also in the deep-sea biosphere.
PMCID: PMC3918590  PMID: 24575084
deep-sea methane seeps; nematodes hosts; deep-sea microsporidia parasitism; muscle decomposition; basal fungi in the deep sea
3.  Deep insights into Dictyocaulus viviparus transcriptomes provides unique prospects for new drug targets and disease intervention 
Biotechnology advances  2010;29(3):10.1016/j.biotechadv.2010.11.005.
The lungworm, Dictyocaulus viviparus, causes parasitic bronchitis in cattle, and is responsible for substantial economic losses in temperate regions of the world. Here, we undertake the first large-scale exploration of available transcriptomic data for this lungworm, examine differences in transcription between different stages/both genders and identify and prioritize essential molecules linked to fundamental metabolic pathways, which could represent novel drug targets. Approximately 3 million expressed sequence tags (ESTs), generated by 454 sequencing from third-stage larvae (L3) as well as adult females and males of D. viviparus, were assembled and annotated. The assembly of these sequences yielded ~61,000 contigs, of which relatively large proportions encoded collagens (4.3%), ubiquitins (2.1%) and serine/threonine protein kinases (1.9%). Subtractive analysis in silico identified 6,928 nucleotide sequences as being uniquely transcribed in L3, and 5,203 and 7,889 transcripts as being exclusive to the adult female and male, respectively. Most peptides predicted from the conceptual translations were nucleoplasmins (L3), serine/threonine protein kinases (female) and major sperm proteins (male). Additional analyses allowed the prediction of three drug target candidates, whose Caenorhabditis elegans homologues were linked to a lethal RNA interference phenotype. This detailed exploration, combined with future transcriptomic sequencing of all developmental stages of D. viviparus, will facilitate future investigations of the molecular biology of this parasitic nematode as well as genomic sequencing. These advances will underpin the discovery of new drug and/or vaccine targets, focused on biotechnological outcomes.
PMCID: PMC3827682  PMID: 21182926
Dictyocaulus viviparous; Bovine lungworm; Next-generation sequencing; Bioinformatics; Transcriptome; Ancylostoma-secreted proteins; Drug target prediction
4.  Targeted metabolomics reveals a male pheromone and sex-specific ascaroside biosynthesis in C. elegans 
ACS chemical biology  2012;7(8):1321-1325.
In the model organism Caenorhabditis elegans, a class of small molecule signals called ascarosides regulate development, mating and social behaviors. Ascaroside production has been studied in the predominant sex, the hermaphrodite, but not in males, which account for less than 1% of wild-type worms grown under typical laboratory conditions. Using HPLC-MS-based targeted metabolomics, we show that males also produce ascarosides and that their ascaroside profile differs markedly from that of hermaphrodites. Whereas hermaphrodite ascaroside profiles are dominated by ascr#3, containing an α,β-unsaturated fatty acid, males predominantly produce the corresponding dihydro-derivative ascr#10. This small structural modification profoundly affects signaling properties: hermaphrodites are retained by attomole-amounts of male-produced ascr#10, whereas hermaphrodite-produced ascr#3 repels hermaphrodites and attracts males. Male production of ascr#10 is population density-dependent, indicating sensory regulation of ascaroside biosynthesis. Analysis of gene expression data supports a model in which sex-specific regulation of peroxisomal β-oxidation produces functionally different ascaroside profiles.
PMCID: PMC3423530  PMID: 22662967
5.  Nematode-Bacterium Symbioses - Cooperation and Conflict Revealed in the 'Omics' Age 
The Biological bulletin  2012;223(1):85-102.
Nematodes are ubiquitous organisms that have a significant global impact on ecosystems, economies, agriculture, and human health. The applied importance of nematodes and the experimental tractability of many species have promoted their use as models in various research areas, including developmental biology, evolutionary biology, ecology, and animal-bacterium interactions. Nematodes are particularly well suited for investigating host associations with bacteria because all nematodes have interacted with bacteria during their evolutionary history and engage in a diversity of association types. Interactions between nematodes and bacteria can be positive (mutualistic) or negative (pathogenic/parasitic) and may be transient or stably maintained (symbiotic). Furthermore, since many mechanistic aspects of nematode-bacterium interactions are conserved their study can provide broader insights into other types of associations, including those relevant to human diseases. Recently, genome-scale studies have been applied to diverse nematode-bacterial interactions, and have helped reveal mechanisms of communication and exchange between the associated partners. In addition to providing specific information about the system under investigation, these studies also have helped inform our understanding of genome evolution, mutualism, and innate immunity. In this review we will discuss the importance and diversity of nematodes, 'omics' studies in nematode-bacterial systems, and the wider implications of the findings.
PMCID: PMC3508788  PMID: 22983035
Steinernema; Heterorhabditis; Laxus; Brugia; Caenorhabditis elegans; Xenorhabdus; Photorhabdus; Wolbachia
6.  Wide and scalable field-of-view Talbot-grid-based fluorescence microscopy 
Optics letters  2012;37(23):5018-5020.
Here we report a low-cost and simple wide field-of-view (FOV) on-chip fluorescence-imaging platform, termed fluorescence Talbot microscopy (FTM), which utilizes the Talbot self-imaging effect to enable efficient fluorescence imaging over a large and directly scalable FOV. The FTM prototype has a resolution of 1.2 μm and an FOV of 3.9 mm × 3.5 mm. We demonstrate the imaging capability of FTM on fluorescently labeled breast cancer cells (SK-BR-3) and human embryonic kidney 293 (HEK) cells expressing green fluorescent protein.
PMCID: PMC3718313  PMID: 23202123
7.  The Draft Genome and Transcriptome of Panagrellus redivivus Are Shaped by the Harsh Demands of a Free-Living Lifestyle 
Genetics  2013;193(4):1279-1295.
Nematodes compose an abundant and diverse invertebrate phylum with members inhabiting nearly every ecological niche. Panagrellus redivivus (the “microworm”) is a free-living nematode frequently used to understand the evolution of developmental and behavioral processes given its phylogenetic distance to Caenorhabditis elegans. Here we report the de novo sequencing of the genome, transcriptome, and small RNAs of P. redivivus. Using a combination of automated gene finders and RNA-seq data, we predict 24,249 genes and 32,676 transcripts. Small RNA analysis revealed 248 microRNA (miRNA) hairpins, of which 63 had orthologs in other species. Fourteen miRNA clusters containing 42 miRNA precursors were found. The RNA interference, dauer development, and programmed cell death pathways are largely conserved. Analysis of protein family domain abundance revealed that P. redivivus has experienced a striking expansion of BTB domain-containing proteins and an unprecedented expansion of the cullin scaffold family of proteins involved in multi-subunit ubiquitin ligases, suggesting proteolytic plasticity and/or tighter regulation of protein turnover. The eukaryotic release factor protein family has also been dramatically expanded and suggests an ongoing evolutionary arms race with viruses and transposons. The P. redivivus genome provides a resource to advance our understanding of nematode evolution and biology and to further elucidate the genomic architecture leading to free-living lineages, taking advantage of the many fascinating features of this worm revealed by comparative studies.
PMCID: PMC3606103  PMID: 23410827
Panagrellus redivivus; microRNA; BTB domain; F-box; eRF1; cullin
8.  Origin and Evolution of Dishevelled 
G3: Genes|Genomes|Genetics  2013;3(2):251-262.
Dishevelled (Dsh or Dvl) is an important signaling protein, playing a key role in Wnt signaling and relaying cellular information for several developmental pathways. Dsh is highly conserved among metazoans and has expanded into a multigene family in most bilaterian lineages, including vertebrates, planarians, and nematodes. These orthologs, where explored, are known to have considerable overlap in function, but evidence for functional specialization continues to mount. We performed a comparative analysis of Dsh across animals to explore protein architecture and identify conserved and divergent features that could provide insight into functional specialization with an emphasis on invertebrates, especially nematodes. We find evidence of dynamic evolution of Dsh, particularly among nematodes, with taxa varying in ortholog number from one to three. We identify a new domain specific to some nematode lineages and find an unexpected nuclear localization signal conserved in many Dsh orthologs. Our findings raise questions of protein evolution in general and provide clues as to how animals have dealt with the complex intricacies of having a protein, such as Dsh, act as a central messenger hub connected to many different and vitally important pathways. We discuss our findings in the context of functional specialization and bring many testable hypotheses to light.
PMCID: PMC3564985  PMID: 23390601
dishevelled; protein evolution; Nematoda; Wnt; C. elegans
9.  Identification of DVA Interneuron Regulatory Sequences in Caenorhabditis elegans 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e54971.
The identity of each neuron is determined by the expression of a distinct group of genes comprising its terminal gene battery. The regulatory sequences that control the expression of such terminal gene batteries in individual neurons is largely unknown. The existence of a complete genome sequence for C. elegans and draft genomes of other nematodes let us use comparative genomics to identify regulatory sequences directing expression in the DVA interneuron.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Using phylogenetic comparisons of multiple Caenorhabditis species, we identified conserved non-coding sequences in 3 of 10 genes (fax-1, nmr-1, and twk-16) that direct expression of reporter transgenes in DVA and other neurons. The conserved region and flanking sequences in an 85-bp intronic region of the twk-16 gene directs highly restricted expression in DVA. Mutagenesis of this 85 bp region shows that it has at least four regions. The central 53 bp region contains a 29 bp region that represses expression and a 24 bp region that drives broad neuronal expression. Two short flanking regions restrict expression of the twk-16 gene to DVA. A shared GA-rich motif was identified in three of these genes but had opposite effects on expression when mutated in the nmr-1 and twk-16 DVA regulatory elements.
We identified by multi-species conservation regulatory regions within three genes that direct expression in the DVA neuron. We identified four contiguous regions of sequence of the twk-16 gene enhancer with positive and negative effects on expression, which combined to restrict expression to the DVA neuron. For this neuron a single binding site may thus not achieve sufficient specificity for cell specific expression. One of the positive elements, an 8-bp sequence required for expression was identified in silico by sequence comparisons of seven nematode species, demonstrating the potential resolution of expanded multi-species phylogenetic comparisons.
PMCID: PMC3557239  PMID: 23383017
10.  Comparative Metabolomics Reveals Biogenesis of Ascarosides, a Modular Library of Small-Molecule Signals in C. elegans 
In the model organism Caenorhabditis elegans, a family of endogenous small molecules, the ascarosides, function as key regulators of developmental timing and behavior that act upstream of conserved signaling pathways. The ascarosides are based on the dideoxysugar ascarylose, which is linked to fatty acid-like side chains of varying lengths derived from peroxisomal β-oxidation. Despite their importance for many aspects of C. elegans biology, knowledge of ascaroside structures, biosynthesis, and homeostasis remains incomplete. We used an MS/MS-based screen to profile ascarosides in C. elegans wild type and mutant metabolomes, which revealed a much greater structural diversity of ascaroside derivatives than previously reported. Comparison of the metabolomes from wild type and a series of peroxisomal β-oxidation mutants showed that the enoyl CoA-hydratase MAOC-1 serves an important role in ascaroside biosynthesis and clarified the functions of two other enzymes, ACOX-1 and DHS-28. We show that following peroxisomal β-oxidation the ascarosides are selectively derivatized with moieties of varied biogenetic origin and that such modifications can dramatically affect biological activity, producing signaling molecules active at low femtomolar concentrations. Based on these results the ascarosides appear as a modular library of small molecule signals, integrating building blocks from three major metabolic pathways; carbohydrate metabolism, peroxisomal β-oxidation of fatty acids, and amino acid catabolism. Our screen further demonstrates that ascaroside biosynthesis is directly affected by nutritional status and that excretion of the final products is highly selective.
PMCID: PMC3269134  PMID: 22239548
11.  Synaptic polarity of the interneuron circuit controlling C. elegans locomotion 
Caenorhabditis elegans is the only animal for which a detailed neural connectivity diagram has been constructed. However, synaptic polarities in this diagram, and thus, circuit functions are largely unknown. Here, we deciphered the likely polarities of seven pre-motor neurons implicated in the control of worm's locomotion, using a combination of experimental and computational tools. We performed single and multiple laser ablations in the locomotor interneuron circuit and recorded times the worms spent in forward and backward locomotion. We constructed a theoretical model of the locomotor circuit and searched its all possible synaptic polarity combinations and sensory input patterns in order to find the best match to the timing data. The optimal solution is when either all or most of the interneurons are inhibitory and forward interneurons receive the strongest input, which suggests that inhibition governs the dynamics of the locomotor interneuron circuit. From the five pre-motor interneurons, only AVB and AVD are equally likely to be excitatory, i.e., they have probably similar number of inhibitory and excitatory connections to distant targets. The method used here has a general character and thus can be also applied to other neural systems consisting of small functional networks.
PMCID: PMC3788333  PMID: 24106473
C. elegans; locomotory interneurons; synaptic polarity; locomotion; neural circuit modeling; optimization; laser ablations
12.  Text mining in the biocuration workflow: applications for literature curation at WormBase, dictyBase and TAIR 
WormBase, dictyBase and The Arabidopsis Information Resource (TAIR) are model organism databases containing information about Caenorhabditis elegans and other nematodes, the social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum and related Dictyostelids and the flowering plant Arabidopsis thaliana, respectively. Each database curates multiple data types from the primary research literature. In this article, we describe the curation workflow at WormBase, with particular emphasis on our use of text-mining tools (BioCreative 2012, Workshop Track II). We then describe the application of a specific component of that workflow, Textpresso for Cellular Component Curation (CCC), to Gene Ontology (GO) curation at dictyBase and TAIR (BioCreative 2012, Workshop Track III). We find that, with organism-specific modifications, Textpresso can be used by dictyBase and TAIR to annotate gene productions to GO's Cellular Component (CC) ontology.
PMCID: PMC3500519  PMID: 23160413
13.  Protein kinase VRK-1 regulates cell invasion and EGL-17/FGF signaling in Caenorhabditis elegans 
Developmental Biology  2009;335(1):12-21.
The Vaccinia-Related Kinases (VRKs) are highly conserved throughout the animal kingdom and phosphorylate several chromatin proteins and transcription factors. In early Caenorhabditis elegans embryos, VRK-1 is required for proper nuclear envelope formation. In this work we present the first investigation of the developmental role of VRKs by means of a novel C. elegans vrk-1 mutant allele. We found that VRK-1 is essential in hermaphrodites for formation of the vulva, uterus, utse, and for development and maintenance of the somatic gonad and thus the germ line. VRK-1 regulates anchor cell polarity and the timing of anchor cell invasion through the basement membranes separating vulval and somatic gonadal cells during the L3 larval stage. VRK-1 is also required for proper specification and proliferation of uterine cells and sex myoblasts. Expression of the Fibroblast Growth Factor-like protein EGL-17 and its receptor EGL-15 is reduced in vrk-1 mutants, suggesting that VRK-1 might act at least partially through activation of FGF signaling. Expression of a translational VRK-1::GFP fusion protein in the ventral nerve cord and vulva precursor cells restores vulva and uterus formation, suggesting both cell autonomous and non-autonomous roles of VRK-1.
PMCID: PMC3378332  PMID: 19679119
Anchor cell; Caenorhabditis elegans; Cell invasion; Cell polarity; Cell signaling; FGF; Uterus; Vaccinia Related Kinase; vrk-1; Vulva
15.  Incorporating Genomics into the Toolkit of Nematology 
Journal of Nematology  2012;44(2):191-205.
The study of nematode genomes over the last three decades has relied heavily on the model organism Caenorhabditis elegans, which remains the best-assembled and annotated metazoan genome. This is now changing as a rapidly expanding number of nematodes of medical and economic importance have been sequenced in recent years. The advent of sequencing technologies to achieve the equivalent of the $1000 human genome promises that every nematode genome of interest will eventually be sequenced at a reasonable cost. As the sequencing of species spanning the nematode phylum becomes a routine part of characterizing nematodes, the comparative approach and the increasing use of ecological context will help us to further understand the evolution and functional specializations of any given species by comparing its genome to that of other closely and more distantly related nematodes. We review the current state of nematode genomics and discuss some of the highlights that these genomes have revealed and the trend and benefits of ecological genomics, emphasizing the potential for new genomes and the exciting opportunities this provides for nematological studies.
PMCID: PMC3578471  PMID: 23482088
ecological genomics; evolution; genomics; nematodes; phylogenetics; proteomics; sequencing
16.  The cGMP Signaling Pathway Affects Feeding Behavior in the Necromenic Nematode Pristionchus pacificus 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(4):e34464.
The genetic tractability and the species-specific association with beetles make the nematode Pristionchus pacificus an exciting emerging model organism for comparative studies in development and behavior. P. pacificus differs from Caenorhabditis elegans (a bacterial feeder) by its buccal teeth and the lack of pharyngeal grinders, but almost nothing is known about which genes coordinate P. pacificus feeding behaviors, such as pharyngeal pumping rate, locomotion, and fat storage.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We analyzed P. pacificus pharyngeal pumping rate and locomotion behavior on and off food, as well as on different species of bacteria (Escherichia coli, Bacillus subtilis, and Caulobacter crescentus). We found that the cGMP-dependent protein kinase G (PKG) Ppa-EGL-4 in P. pacificus plays an important role in regulating the pumping rate, mouth form dimorphism, the duration of forward locomotion, and the amount of fat stored in intestine. In addition, Ppa-EGL-4 interacts with Ppa-OBI-1, a recently identified protein involved in chemosensation, to influence feeding and locomotion behavior. We also found that C. crescentus NA1000 increased pharyngeal pumping as well as fat storage in P. pacificus.
The PKG EGL-4 has conserved functions in regulating feeding behavior in both C. elegans and P. pacificus nematodes. The Ppa-EGL-4 also has been co-opted during evolution to regulate P. pacificus mouth form dimorphism that indirectly affect pharyngeal pumping rate. Specifically, the lack of Ppa-EGL-4 function increases pharyngeal pumping, time spent in forward locomotion, and fat storage, in part as a result of higher food intake. Ppa-OBI-1 functions upstream or parallel to Ppa-EGL-4. The beetle-associated omnivorous P. pacificus respond differently to changes in food state and food quality compared to the exclusively bacteriovorous C. elegans.
PMCID: PMC3338501  PMID: 22563372
17.  Re-programming of C. elegans male epidermal precursor fates by Wnt, Hox, and LIN-12/Notch activities 
Developmental Biology  2010;345(1):1-11.
In C. elegans males, different subsets of ventral epidermal precursor (Pn.p) cells adopt distinct fates in a position-specific manner: three posterior cells, P(9–11).p, comprise the hook sensillum competence group (HCG) with three potential fates (1°, 2°, or 3°), while eight anterior cells, P(1–8).p, fuse with the hyp7 epidermal syncytium. Here we show that activation of the canonical BAR-1 β-catenin pathway of Wnt signaling alters the competence of P(3–8).p and specifies ectopic HCG-like fates. This fate transformation requires the Hox gene mab-5. In addition, misexpression of mab-5 in P(1–8).p is sufficient to establish HCG competence among these cells, as well as to generate ectopic HCG fates in combination with LIN-12 or EGF signaling. While increased Wnt signaling induces predominantly 1° HCG fates, increased LIN-12 or EGF signaling in combination with MAB-5 overexpression promotes 2° HCG fates in anterior Pn.p cells, suggesting distinctive functions of Wnt, LIN-12, and EGF signaling in specification of HCG fates. Lastly, wild-type mab-5 function is necessary for normal P(9–11).p fate specification, indicating that regulation of ectopic HCG fate formation revealed in anterior Pn.p cells reflect mechanisms of pattern formation during normal hook development.
PMCID: PMC3326348  PMID: 20478294
pattern formation; fate transformation; Axin; β-catenin; Hox; WNT; Notch
18.  Hormonal Signal Amplification Mediates Environmental Conditions during Development and Controls an Irreversible Commitment to Adulthood 
PLoS Biology  2012;10(4):e1001306.
A dual mechanism regulates the developmental fate choice in C. elegans in response to population density: variation of the threshold of DA hormone required to commit to a certain fate and a positive feedback loop that amplifies this hormonal signal to ensure an organism-wide developmental fate choice.
Many animals can choose between different developmental fates to maximize fitness. Despite the complexity of environmental cues and life history, different developmental fates are executed in a robust fashion. The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans serves as a powerful model to examine this phenomenon because it can adopt one of two developmental fates (adulthood or diapause) depending on environmental conditions. The steroid hormone dafachronic acid (DA) directs development to adulthood by regulating the transcriptional activity of the nuclear hormone receptor DAF-12. The known role of DA suggests that it may be the molecular mediator of environmental condition effects on the developmental fate decision, although the mechanism is yet unknown. We used a combination of physiological and molecular biology techniques to demonstrate that commitment to reproductive adult development occurs when DA levels, produced in the neuroendocrine XXX cells, exceed a threshold. Furthermore, imaging and cell ablation experiments demonstrate that the XXX cells act as a source of DA, which, upon commitment to adult development, is amplified and propagated in the epidermis in a DAF-12 dependent manner. This positive feedback loop increases DA levels and drives adult programs in the gonad and epidermis, thus conferring the irreversibility of the decision. We show that the positive feedback loop canalizes development by ensuring that sufficient amounts of DA are dispersed throughout the body and serves as a robust fate-locking mechanism to enforce an organism-wide binary decision, despite noisy and complex environmental cues. These mechanisms are not only relevant to C. elegans but may be extended to other hormonal-based decision-making mechanisms in insects and mammals.
Author Summary
During development, many animals choose between mutually exclusive fates, such as workers, soldiers, or queens in bees or ants. The choice between states is uniform throughout the animal since mixtures of these fates are not observed in the wild. The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans larvae integrate environmental conditions and have two choices: mature into reproductive adults or arrest development as dauer larvae—a latent form that can survive harsh conditions. The decision between both fates is governed by the hormone dafachronic acid (DA), however its regulation during development in response to environmental conditions has been unclear. In this study we show how two mechanisms are responsible for the integration of environmental conditions and the coordination of the decision between many tissues. We first show that a threshold mechanism integrates population density with the internal amount of DA made in the head. A normal population density has a low threshold of DA needed for worms to become adults, whereas a high population density increases this threshold and leads worms to develop into dauer larvae. We then show that the low levels of DA released from the head are amplified in the hypodermis (the main body syncytial epithelium) via a positive feedback loop, coordinating the decision over the animal. Disruption of this positive feedback yields abnormal adults. We propose that the positive feedback serves as a fate-locking mechanism enforcing an organismal binary decision—either adult or dauer—despite noisy and uncertain environmental conditions.
PMCID: PMC3323525  PMID: 22505848
20.  A Modular Library of Small Molecule Signals Regulates Social Behaviors in Caenorhabditis elegans 
PLoS Biology  2012;10(1):e1001237.
Comparative metabolomics reveals a modular library of small molecule signals that function as aggregation pheromones in the nematode C. elegans.
The nematode C. elegans is an important model for the study of social behaviors. Recent investigations have shown that a family of small molecule signals, the ascarosides, controls population density sensing and mating behavior. However, despite extensive studies of C. elegans aggregation behaviors, no intraspecific signals promoting attraction or aggregation of wild-type hermaphrodites have been identified. Using comparative metabolomics, we show that the known ascarosides are accompanied by a series of derivatives featuring a tryptophan-derived indole moiety. Behavioral assays demonstrate that these indole ascarosides serve as potent intraspecific attraction and aggregation signals for hermaphrodites, in contrast to ascarosides lacking the indole group, which are repulsive. Hermaphrodite attraction to indole ascarosides depends on the ASK amphid sensory neurons. Downstream of the ASK sensory neuron, the interneuron AIA is required for mediating attraction to indole ascarosides instead of the RMG interneurons, which previous studies have shown to integrate attraction and aggregation signals from ASK and other sensory neurons. The role of the RMG interneuron in mediating aggregation and attraction is thought to depend on the neuropeptide Y-like receptor NPR-1, because solitary and social C. elegans strains are distinguished by different npr-1 variants. We show that indole ascarosides promote attraction and aggregation in both solitary and social C. elegans strains. The identification of indole ascarosides as aggregation signals reveals unexpected complexity of social signaling in C. elegans, which appears to be based on a modular library of ascarosides integrating building blocks derived from lipid β-oxidation and amino-acid metabolism. Variation of modules results in strongly altered signaling content, as addition of a tryptophan-derived indole unit to repellent ascarosides produces strongly attractive indole ascarosides. Our findings show that the library of ascarosides represents a highly developed chemical language integrating different neurophysiological pathways to mediate social communication in C. elegans.
Author Summary
Chemical signaling is an ancient form of inter-organismal communication. The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans exhibits a wide range of social behaviors, including mutual attraction and aggregation, and has served as a useful model towards investigating the signaling pathways that regulate these behaviors. Recent investigations showed that other C. elegans behaviors, like population density sensing and mating, are regulated by small molecule signals called ascarosides. However, it remained unclear whether C. elegans uses small molecules to promote intraspecific attraction and aggregation, despite the presence of extensive neural circuitry regulating these behaviors. In this study, we show that C. elegans uses a specifically modified variant of the ascarosides including an indole unit as a highly potent aggregation pheromone. These indole ascarosides integrate input from two major metabolic pathways, amino acid catabolism and lipid beta-oxidation, suggesting that C. elegans communicates metabolic status via a modular code of small-molecule signals. Our study thus provides evidence for use of a multilayered chemical language for inter-organismal signaling by a model organism. Understanding of chemical signaling in nematodes may aid the development of new treatment approaches for parasitic nematodes, which remain among the most prevalent human disease agents.
PMCID: PMC3254649  PMID: 22253572
21.  WormBase 
Worm  2012;1(1):15-21.
WormBase ( has been serving the scientific community for over 11 years as the central repository for genomic and genetic information for the soil nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. The resource has evolved from its beginnings as a database housing the genomic sequence and genetic and physical maps of a single species, and now represents the breadth and diversity of nematode research, currently serving genome sequence and annotation for around 20 nematodes. In this article, we focus on WormBase’s role of genome sequence annotation, describing how we annotate and integrate data from a growing collection of nematode species and strains. We also review our approaches to sequence curation, and discuss the impact on annotation quality of large functional genomics projects such as modENCODE.
PMCID: PMC3670165  PMID: 24058818
Caenorhabditis elegans; annotation; community resource; genome; model organism database; nematode; parasitic nematode; sequence curation
22.  Metazoan operons accelerate recovery from growth arrested states 
Cell  2011;145(6):981-992.
Existing theories explain why operons are advantageous in prokaryotes, but their occurrence in metazoans is an enigma. Nematode operon genes, typically consisting of growth genes, are significantly up-regulated during recovery from growth-arrested states. This expression pattern is anti-correlated to non-operon genes consistent with a competition for transcriptional resources. We find that transcriptional resources are initially limiting during recovery, and that recovering animals are highly sensitive to any additional decrease in transcriptional resources. Operons become advantageous because by clustering growth genes into operons, fewer promoters compete for the limited transcriptional machinery, effectively increasing the concentration of transcriptional resources, and accelerating recovery. Mathematical modeling reveals how a moderate increase in transcriptional resources can substantially enhance transcription rate and recovery. This design principle occurs in different nematodes and the chordate C. intestinalis. As transition from arrest to rapid growth is shared by many metazoans, operons could have evolved to facilitate these processes.
PMCID: PMC3152313  PMID: 21663799
23.  A sensory code for host seeking in parasitic nematodes 
Current biology : CB  2011;21(5):377-383.
Nematodes comprise a large phylum of both free-living and parasitic species that show remarkably diverse lifestyles, ecological niches, and behavioral repertoires. Parasitic species in particular often display highly specialized host-seeking behaviors that reflect their specific host preferences. Many host-seeking behaviors can be triggered by the presence of host odors, yet little is known about either the specific olfactory cues that trigger these behaviors or the neural circuits that underlie them. Heterorhabditis bacteriophora and Steinernema carpocapsae are phylogenetically distant insect-parasitic nematodes whose host-seeking and host-invasion behavior resembles that of some of the most devastating human- and plant-parasitic nematodes. Here we compare the olfactory responses of H. bacteriophora and S. carpocapsae infective juveniles (IJs) to those of Caenorhabditis elegans dauers, which are analogous life stages [1]. We show that the broad host range of these parasites results from their ability to respond to the universally-produced signal carbon dioxide (CO2) as well as a wide array of odors, including host-specific odors that we identified using TD-GC-MS. We show that CO2 is attractive for the parasitic IJs and C. elegans dauers despite being repulsive for C. elegans adults [2–4], and we identify an ancient and conserved sensory neuron that mediates CO2 response in both parasitic and free-living species regardless of whether CO2 is an attractive or a repulsive cue. Finally, we show that the parasites’ odor response profiles are more similar to each other than to that of C. elegans despite their greater phylogenetic distance, likely reflecting evolutionary convergence to insect parasitism. Our results suggest that the olfactory responses of parasitic versus free-living nematodes are highly diverse and that this diversity is critical to the evolution of nematode behavior.
PMCID: PMC3152378  PMID: 21353558
24.  G3, GENETICS, and the GSA: Two Journals, One Mission 
Genetics  2011;189(1):1-2.
PMCID: PMC3176113  PMID: 21908741

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