The Model System C. Elegans
Since the 1960s, the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans has been used as a model organism to investigate numerous biological processes.
The nematode develops rapidly: it progresses from embryo through four larval stages and to adult in only 3 days at 20 °C. With its 959 somatic cells, C. elegans combines the complexity of a multicellular organism with a relatively simple physiology and is ideal to study cellular differentiation and various developmental processes.
C. elegans is genetically manipulatable and suited for large-scale screens. This, combined with the fact that they are transparent throughout development, renders the worms ideal for live microscopy-based studies of fluorescently tagged proteins and/or chromatin reporters. With their short life cycle and controlled genetics, worms are highly suitable to study epigenetic memory not only through different stages of development but also across generations.
In recent years, C. elegans has emerged as a model organism to study metabolism. In fact, its highly controlled diet that solely consists of bacteria favors research that involves nutrition control. Worms are a unique system where to investigate the effects of diet on chromatin organization within intact tissues of a whole organism. Given the high degree of conservation in most chromatin and metabolic pathways with mammals, discoveries in C. elegans are likely to be relevant to human biology.