Although several of them will fit on the head of a pin, the tiny roundworm, known by its scientific name as Caenorhabditis elegans, made it big today as Human Genome Project researchers in the United States and Great Britain announced they have sequenced the animal's 97 million-base genome. It marks the first time scientists have spelled out the instructions for a complete animal, that, like humans, has a nervous system, digests food, and has sex.
The work, carried out at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the Sanger Centre in Cambridge, England, is published in the December 11 issue of the journal Science.
"This is a tremendously gratifying moment and more of a beginning than an end," said Robert Waterston, leader of the St. Louis group that worked eight years to complete the job. "We have provided biologists with a powerful new tool to experiment with and learn how genomes function. We'll be able to ask-and answer-questions we could never even think about before."
John Sulston, who led the Medical Research Council group at the Sanger Centre, said, "When Bob and I started studying genetics in the worm in the mid-1980s it became clear that the best way to find the genes we were looking for was to sequence the whole genome. Sure enough, what we have now found in that genome far surpasses what we could have imagined."
Though most people have never heard of the short worm with the long name-the
animal measures about 1 millimeter from end to end; about 40 of them would span
the words Caenorhabditis elegans-they live underfoot daily. C. elegans, as
scientists call them, inhabit the dirt in temperate regions. A handful of soil
may contain thousands of worms, gliding their way through water droplets
trapped between soil particles. Some of its nematode cousins are parasites, but
dirt-ranging C. elegans prefer a benign existence among rotting plants. Back at
the lab, the creatures live in petri dishes on a steady diet
Contact: Linda Sage
NIH/National Human Genome Research Institute