C. elegans in Courses With Research Focus

Introductory Genetics

The “Project Lab”, which is a research-intensive course, offered by Dr. Leilani Miller at Santa Clara University and is funded by NSF for five years. The purpose of this course is to bring students to a research laboratory and have them experience real life research problems. Part of the aim is to retain students in the biological sciences and enhance their critical thinking via the Project Lab training.

The goal of the project is to study/isolate genes that affect the cell fate in the process of C. elegans‘ vulval development. C. elegans is an excellent choice as the mutants are asily visualized and the vulva is not required for viability. The working objectives for each year are connected to the previous year and the upcoming year in terms of the data and materials developed. For example, in the first year, students select mutants that are defective in vulval development, then use PCR to decide which chromosome the mutated gene is located on and to characterize the gene in terms of its dominance or recessiveness. The research findings will be used by students enrolled in the following year.

While working on C. elegans, students learn basic biology, advanced molecular and genetic experimental techniques, such as how to handle worms, how to perform PCR, and how to clone genes of interest. They learn biological concepts and experience what real life research problems are and how to solve these problems as well (Miller, 1999).

Advanced Molecular Biology

The course is offered by Dr. Joe Pelliccia at Bates College. It is a research & seminar course which mainly provides students the experience of doing research, like graduate students do, by using C. elegans. The research question students work on is whether the mut-2 gene influences meiotic recombination during meiosis. By working as a group on a project using C. elegans, students also experience, to a certain degree, how C. elegans researchers work. For example, a C. elegans database (ACeDB) hosted on several web sites is where researchers usually search for gene sequences or particular publications. Students are required to be able to use this resource to search and measure the map distance between genes of interest. Students attend journal clubs routinely to gain up-to-date information about C. elegans. They also learn basic techniques, such as how to handle and experiment with C. elegans. These techniques then can be used in more advanced biology courses. At the end of the semester, students are supposed to compile their findings, write a scientific article, and have the article published in a newsletter of the worm community, the “Worm Breeders Gazette.”

In sum, as shown above, C. elegans is been used in both lecture and laboratory as a model organism. It has been used in various disciplines, such as genetics, molecular genetics and molecular biology. From its use in teaching, we can see the wealth of resources used from research laboratory to education, such as the use of mutant worms and powerful techniques like PCR. By using C. elegans in classrooms, educators hope their students not only learn biological concepts but also the process of scientific investigation and the advanced techniques/tools that will be needed for further study in science.


  • Miller, L. M. (Personal communication, Jun 5, 1999). A project-based laboratory course using C. elegans.