C. Elegans Research: Update #1

(originally written 5/29/18)

            In my project, I will be studying spe-26 mutant C. elegans, in order to gain insights into the function of the SPE-26 protein. If this sounds like jargon to you, don’t worry; I’ll explain!

            In order to conduct my research, I will be working in Dr. Shakes’ biology lab on campus. Essentially, her lab studies the development of spermatocytes (sperm cells) and oocytes (egg cells) in C. elegans, which is a 1 mm long, transparent, nematode worm. C. elegans is a useful model organism for developmental biology research because it is transparent, so its cells are easy to visualize with a microscope, and because its gonad (or reproductive organ) is linearly and temporally arranged; that is, the cells in the gonad undergo sequential divisions so that the cells on the distal end are indeterminate, and those at the proximal end are mature gametes (sex cells). Because of this temporal layout, it is possible to study each step of gamete development. Although C. elegans worms are clearly very different from humans, we can still gain insights on gamete development that can help us understand problems like infertility and other developmental problems (Corsi et al., 2005).

            In my project, I am analyzing spermatocyte development in male worms in order to study the protein SPE-26. SPE-26 is a protein that aids in spermatogenesis, but its exact function in developing sperm cells is unknown. I will be studying this protein by comparing spermatogenesis in wild-type (normal) worms and spe-26 mutant worms that cannot properly produce SPE-26 protein. By looking at differences in cell division between mutant and wild-type worms, I will be able to help deduce the role that the SPE-26 protein plays in spermatogenesis. A single protein contributing to the sperm development of a nematode worm may seem trivial, but understanding small details in gamete development can create a greater understanding of meiosis as a whole.

            I started working on this project as a continuation of SPE-26 research in Dr. Shakes’ lab, as well as other previous work at other universities. The protein was first identified in 1995, reported to function in spermatogenesis (Varkey et al., 1995). Between this research, and that done in our lab, we know that SPE-26 is needed to produce mature sperm (spermatids), because mutant worms are partially or completely sterile. Analysis of different cell parts during meiosis shows that in spe-26 mutants, dividing cells fail to properly segregate chromosomes during divisions, and do not properly partition organelles into residual bodies (RBs) after divisions (Gurley 2017). In normal spermatogenesis, spermatids discard cell parts including actin, microtubules, and other large organelles in RBs after Anaphase II, but in mutant worms, the RB does not form properly. In my project, I will carry out more experiments to study the actin and microtubule dynamics in developing spermatids in order to gain a better understanding of how SPE-26 is working in this process.

            In the next few weeks, I will post some updates about the actual lab techniques I am using, along with any results I come up with! Stay tuned!



Corsi, Ann K., et al. (2005). A Transparent window into biology: A primer on Caenorhabditis elegans. Worm Book ed. The C. elegans Research Community.

Varkey, Jacob B. et al. (1995). The Caenorhabditis elegans spe-26 gene is necessary to form spermatids and encodes a protein similar to the actm-associated proteins kelch and scruin. Genes & Development, (9), 1074-1086

Gurley, S. (2017). Cytological and Bioinformatical Analysis of SPE-26, a C. elegans Kelch-like Protein that Functions during the Karyosome Stage of Spermatogenesis. Unpublished manuscript.