Characterizing chromosome missegregation in spe-26 mutant Caenorhabditis elegans

Meiosis is a type of specialized cell division, in which sperm and egg cells are formed. It is important to study and understand meiosis because when it goes wrong, it can result in infertility and other problems with sex cells. A useful way to study meiosis is in Caenorhabditis elegans, a 1-millimeter long nematode worm with transparent skin, because sex cell division is easy to analyze with microscopy. In my project, I will be visualizing defects in meiotic chromosome segregation in mutant C. elegans worms, which has a broader application to human sperm development. Given that infertility affects up to ten-percent of couples worldwide, largely due to problems with male sperm formation, studying meiosis in a model organism is important for understanding why and how infertility occurs in humans.

In my research project, I will be studying a specific protein, SPE-26, found in developing sperm cells in C. elegans worms. So far, the structure and function of SPE-26 have been generally determined in meiotically dividing sperm cells, using worms that have a mutation in the spe-26 gene. SPE-26 functions in meiotic prophase, when sperm-fated cells are preparing to divide; when the protein is absent, they fail to correctly sequester organelles for division, and to become mature spermatids. In my project, I will carefully analyze, using immunocytology and DIC microscopy, defects in meiotic chromosome segregation in spe-26 mutant C. elegans. Specifically, I intend to address how chromosome segregation differs in normal and spe-26 mutant C. elegans. Comparing microscopic images of normal chromosome segregation and mutant chromosome segregation will contribute to the understanding of the overall function of the SPE-26 protein in spermatid formation, and ultimately to an understanding of the complex process of meiosis.