Evolutionary Biology Research Tools

In C. elegans, most workers are working on comparative developmental biology. As a result, they take advantage of all of the normal tools of C. elegans developmental biology and also try to apply them to related nematodes: forward genetic screens to identify processes in an unbiased manner, gene knock down techniques like RNAi and morpholino oligo injections to investigate the function of specific genes and pathways regardless of the biological functions they are involved in, and traditional cell manipulations such as laser ablations to identify cell-cell interactions. Additionally, worm evolutionary biologists also must use genomics and morphological studies of related nematodes to construct a phylogenetic tree so that changes can be placed in context with the histories of the related worms.

Recently, in addition to developmental studies, researchers have made inroads into incorporating nematode ecology with their development. Integrating developmental programs, environmental cues, and selective pressures remains one of the most difficult and least understood topics in biology. This is of particular importance as the laboratory environment in which nematodes are studied is not the same as their natural habitat.

It is difficult to correlate experimental effects observed in laboratory animals to the effects the same genetic or cell manipulations would have in the wild. These studies involve collecting new nematode strains in field experiments, monitoring sex ratios and population distributions with respect to life-stages in the wild, determining where nematodes really live and their natural food sources, and determining their relationships with naturally occurring hosts, symbiotes, and pathogens.