One of the major model organisms that the National Institute of Health funds is Caenorhabditis elegans. These are small nematodes that only measure 1mm in length, but have been very informative to the field of genetics.
C. elegans have been integral to studying ageing, drug targets, Parkinson’s Disease, and other genetic diseases. For instance, in terms of ageing, a gene in C. elegans, daf-16 or FOXO in Drosophila, has shown to be able to increase or decrease the lifespan of the organism. Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) in the ortholog of this gene in humans, FOXO3, has been looked into for longevity and is now associated with human lifespan extension.
I work in the Apfeld lab that is studying oxidative stress in the TGFβ pathway and surrounding pathways in C. elegans to get more insight into the mechanisms and effect of ageing.
Previous studies have shown that ageing is strongly correlated with reactive oxygen species (ROS). The overproduction of ROS can lead to activation of signalling molecules or damage to different cell components. A pathway that is largely affected by this is the TGFβ pathway, an important pathway for development and physiology. Most recently, I studied the ageing mechanisms in the TGFβ pathway, specifically the sensory neurons, daf-16, and daf-1. A lot of research has been done on the TGFβ pathway under standard conditions, but little is known about the pathway under oxidative stress.
I have been creating double mutants (worms with both genes knocked out) and then comparing their lifespans to each other to get more insight into the mechanisms of the TGFβ pathway. Just this past year, I have successfully created three double mutants (ASI;daf-3, ASI;ASJ, and neuronal daf-16 tissue rescue with a daf-1 background). These mutants were created by mating then screening the genotypes and phenotypes of the strains. I was then able to analyze the lifespan of the ASI;daf-3 and ASI;ASJ strain under oxidative stress using the lifespan machine. The daf-16 tissue rescue is currently on the list to be analyzed.
After working in the lab for over a year, I learned that working in the field of genetics requires you to constantly stay on your toes. It is a rapidly new and developing area of research that can be incredibly frustrating one day then rewarding the next. Regardless of the obstacles I faced throughout the semester, I was always excited to start or learn something new. I have been interested in genetics since high school, so being apart of a lab where I am able to contribute to a field I have read about in many books and research articles makes me appreciate being at Northeastern even more.
Stephanie Stumbur, Health Science