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C. elegans

Since its establishment as a model organism, Caenorhabditis elegans has been an invaluable tool for biological research. An immense spectrum of questions can be addressed using this small nematode, making it one of the most versatile and exciting model organisms.The worm is also the organism in which miRNAs have been first described.

The worm is an ideal system to explore the very early developmental processes because of its rapid and invariant development and its ease of RNAi and transgenic techniques. Studies in the model organism C. elegans have yielded most of what is known today about metazoan development. The first embryonic division in C. elegans has been intensely studied since it is used as an in vivo system for detailed studies of metazoan cell division.

Very early development in the worm (and most other species) is mainly controlled by maternal gene products which are loaded into the oocyte during oogenesis. After fertilization the C. elegans embryo undergoes a series of stereotyped asymmetric cleavages that spatially segregate these maternal factors, such as transcription factors and coding and noncoding RNAs. After a set of divisions the embryo activates its own transcription. This so called maternal to zygotic transition is a universal process in animal development: The embryo overtakes the control and thus no longer solely relies on maternally provided transcripts.

We are investigating the function of small RNAs during very early development of C. elegans.