Worm Breeder's Gazette 13(1): 91 (October 1, 1993)

These abstracts should not be cited in bibliographies. Material contained herein should be treated as personal communication and should be cited as such only with the consent of the author.

Using C. elegans in High School

Tom Russo[1], Jeff Way[2]

[1]Weehawken High School, Weehawken NJ 07087
[2]Dept. of Biology, Nelson Labs, Rutgers University, Piscataway NJ 08855.

We have been trying to develop a set of classroom experiments that would use C. elegans to teach basic genetic concepts to high school students. For this purpose, C. elegans has obvious advantages over Drosophila, the current standard organism. Our goal is to have students doing the following experiments: isolating soil nematodes from the wild, and performing simple genetic crosses that would demonstrate dominant, recessive, and X-linked mutations.

The immediate problem is teaching a high school student how to pick up and transfer a worm. First, in a class of 20-30 students, each student would ideally learn how to do this in a few minutes. Most worm-breeders will recall that it took us much longer to become proficient at worm-picking. However, a high school student will only use this skill for one or two experiments before moving on to another lab exercise. Also, most high schools only have a few low-quality dissecting microscopes that students must share, so microscope time becomes limiting. Second, the purchase of platinum wire and making of picks are inconvenient. We have had some recent success (ourselves, not with students) using bamboo skewers available in local supermarkets. It is possible to dab the skewer with sticky bacteria, and then dab up large worms to set up a mating. In this context, niceties like sterility or scratching the surface of the agar are not so important.

So far we have not even tried to use C. elegans with a whole class. However, a few high school students have used C. elegans for longer-term after-school projects, and one recently won first prize in a county science fair.

Please contact us if you have any suggestions or experience from teaching labs, etc.