Growing our understanding of interactions between viruses and their hosts by identifying new natural viral infections in nematodes

What are nematodes?

Nematodes are roundworms belonging to the phylum Nematoda. There are many different types of nematodes and they can be found in a wide variety of environments! We are primarily interested in free-living nematodes that feed on bacteria in rotting plant material. These nematodes are typically very small (~1mm) and can just barely be seen with the naked eye.

Why do you want to collect nematodes?

Our lab studies infections that occur inside a host organisms’ cells, such as viral infections. We use the nematode C. elegans as a model organism to help us do these studies. However, there are not many known viruses that infect nematodes, and even fewer that infect C. elegans specifically. This limits the kinds of studies we can do! So our goal is to find new viruses capable of infecting C. elegans that we can use to study how viruses interact with their hosts’ cells. We suspect that there are many undiscovered nematode viruses, and we want to try to find them by collecting wild nematodes and testing them for infections!

What will you do with the nematodes?

In our lab, we have several strains of C. elegans that have been genetically modified to produce fluorescent proteins when they become infected. We will mix the wild nematodes with these special C. elegans (we call them “infection reporter worms”) and if the wild worms transmit an infection to the C. elegans, the C. elegans will begin to glow! We will then try to isolate the infection to determine what is causing it.

How can I help?

This summer we will be recruiting 4th grade teachers in Pennsylvania to participate in our Fall 2022 Nematode Hunters! Click here to find out more about our classroom program.

Nematode Hunters is hoping to expand to other states and partner with additional organizations and individuals in the future! Click here to subscribe to our newsletter and be the first to hear about new developments!

For other inquiries contact us here!

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