Who knewthat nematode worms could hold their own in minutes-long videos? John I. Murray, PhD, assistant professor of Genetics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, andpostdoc Amanda L. Zacharias, PhD, produced one of the two award-winning videosin the recent Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB)second annual BioArt competition. Zacharias is workingon identifying the targets of Wnt signaling, an important molecular regulatorof embryonic development, using the worm as her model organism.
The time-lapsevideo that Zacharias created shows the development of an embryo of the microscopicworm Caenorhabditis elegans from the one-cell stage to hatching, aseveral-hours-long process. The cell nuclei are marked in green and animportant transcription factor involved in later embryonic development appearsin red.
“Weproduce these videos as part of our research trying to understand howtranscription factors combine to specify cell fates in development,” Zachariassaid. “They are really cool looking on their own, and it was exciting to berecognized by FASEB. Hopefully, our work will help communicate to the publichow continued funding of model organism research can shed light on importantbiological mechanisms.”
In additionto leading the wet lab part of the worm experiments, Murray also devised the microscopeequipment and software to photograph the worm development images and analyzegene expression levels and location. The confocal microscope’s resonance-scanninglaser passes over the developing worm, taking an image every 1.5 minutes for 14hours, starting at the two-cell stage of the embryo. Videos usually image thefirst seven hours of the process, before the embryo begins to move on its own.
TheMurray lab video originally came about because, in part, worm biologists have atradition of making videos for the Worm Variety Show at the International C.elegans Meeting at UCLA. Forexample, this masterpiece of worm biology, postdoc blues, and an homage to wormNobelist Sydney Brenner, is set to Queen’s BohemianRhapsody.
YouTubehosts a compilation of three videos that Zacharias made for the variety show:one set to the David Bowie tune, Let’sDance, that is similar to their winning FASEB video; another that follows amutant unc-37 embryo to show that theembryo doesn’t hatch properly, set to IAm A Scientist, by Guided by Voices; and a third set to the iconic BradyBunch TV show theme song, showing the development of nine reporter genes in wild-typeworms. The video is a nine-panel composite just like the Brady Bunch introshowing mom and dad Brady, their six kids and Alice, the housekeeper. The finale features the embryos hatching to the climatic ending of Butterflies and Hurricanes by Muse.