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Around the World, Worm Researchers Working Together for the Collective Good

By July 27, 2018No Comments

“It’s the founding researcher who sets the culture, and for the community of researchers using Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) worms as a model, it really began with that first generation of scientists and the influence of Sydney Brenner,” says Dr. Catharine Rankin.

Dr. Sydney Brenner was a South African researcher working at the Medical Research Council in England who, after working with Francis Crick to crack the genetic code, introduced C. elegans as a powerful new model to further our understanding of how genes interact to control the development and function of the nervous system. His work establishing the field of worm biology set the foundation for a global effort to decode the worm genome; in 1998, C. eleganswas the first organism to have its genome fully sequenced. Dr. Brenner’s work in introducing C. elegans as a research model resulted in significant progress in our understanding of neurogenetics. Dr. Brenner and colleagues were awarded a Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2002 for their discovery of highly conserved “cell death” genes—genes that, when activated, cause cells to die.

The importance of collaboration in science cannot be overstated—it is fundamental to discovery, so much so that “togetherness” forms the basis of our centre’s own mission statement—but for Dr. Rankin, who has been working with C. elegans for nearly 30 years, the spirit of working together for the collective good is more than a nice idea: it’s the cornerstone of the community’s progress in understanding diseases from polycystic kidney disease to Alzheimer’s disease to cancer.