The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans is a much loved workhorse in many biology labs. This worm may only be 1mm long and move at snails pace but it is one of the most heavily studied organisms on the planet.
C. elegans was the first metazoan to have its genome sequenced. We know that a fully grown adult consists of 959 cells, 302 neurons, 5000 chemical synapses, 600 gap junctions and 2000 neuromuscular junctions. We even have a full wiring diagram.
And despite it’s simiplicity, C. elegans demonstrates a rich variety of behaviours, says Nektarios Tavernarakis, a biobod at the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology in Crete and his mate George. These include elaborate responses to all kinds of stimuli such as heat, light, touch and chemicals.
But to properly study C. elegans, researchers have to monitor and characterise the organisms’ movements.
So Nek and George have developed a worm tracking algorithm that spots nematode worms in an image and then follows them as they race across the field of view. They call their system Nemo (from NEmatode MOtion, geddit?).
This automates the tedious taks of characterising nematode locomotion. You can almost hear grad students all over the planet sinking to their knees to give thanks.
Ref: arxiv.org/abs/0801.1012: Nemo: a Computational Tool for Analyzing Nematode Locomotion