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Professor Hermann dishes on his favorite research subject, worms

March 16, 2010

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Biology professor Hermann dishes on his favorite research subject, worms, in this fun Portland Tribune feature.

Molecular biologists are drawn to Caenorhabditis elegans (worms) because of their anatomical simplicity and visibility. When observed under a microscope, the worm’s transparent skin and organs reveal the inner workings of each of its 959 cells. Even though that number is exponentially fewer than the number of cells in your pinky finger, it’s still enough to produce a nervous system, muscles, an intestine, and even a rudimentary heart and brain. Plus, approximately half of C. elegans genes have similar counterparts in humans.

Combine these characteristics with an astounding growth rate–from a single cell to a fully formed adult in 36 hours–and it’s easy to grasp why researchers consider C. elegans an ideal specimen. Studying its insides could lead to new treatments for cancer, cardiovascular disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and other ailments.

 “By studying the worm,” says Hermann, “we can learn almost everything about how a multicellular animal is made and how it works.”