High School Science Teacher
To whom it may concern,
I am a high school science teacher in New York. I have some students that have been working with California Blackworms (Lumbriculus variegatus).
They are very interested in regeneration and genetics. We did some reading into WNT and regeneration. We wanted to know if anyone in this forum would be
willing to talk to us or e-mail correspond with us about this. My students want to investigate Wnt in blackworms. It may seem a bit far fetched for students in
high school to do this. We do have access to PCR and rtPCR. If anyone in this forum would be willing to give us some advice, even to say that this is not a good idea
or who can give us some direction that would be very much appreciated.
Thanks so much,
Commack High School
I don't know much about blackworms, but the link between Wnt and regeneration has been well-established in another highly-regenerative worm commonly found in science classrooms, the planaria. Have you looked at any of the material in that area? Some of the planaria studies could inspire your efforts in blackworms.
A good place to find relevant (and free) articles and reviews is the publications page of Alejandro Sanchez Alvarado's lab website, one of the pioneers of planaria regenerative biology at the University of Utah (http://planaria.neuro.utah.edu/publications.html). A great review on the topic by Peter Reddien and Alejandro Sanchez Alvarado can be found here. You might already know this , but in a (exceedingly brief) nutshell, they have found that Wnt is expressed at the posterior wound edge of the worms immediately following amputation, and Wnt promotes posterior fate (tail formation).
I think the blackworm sounds like a cool model organism in which to study regeneration - I had no idea it also regenerated well! However, it might be important to address why it would be a better model than planaria. Offhand, I can think of three aspects that have to be addressed:
1. Technical difficulty - is it technically easier to manipulate blackworms than planaria?
2. Genetics - A great advantage of several model organisms, including the Other Worm, C.Elegans, is the genetics that can be easily done on it. Importantly, the C.Elegans genome is well-understood, lending itself to detailed genetic study. The Planarian genome has also been sequenced. A very cursory search on Google yielded no genetic information on the blackworm. The lack of characterization of a blackworm genes/genome may hinder your efforts to do genetics on it. At the very least, specific to your proposal to look at the role of Wnt in blackworm regeneration, it would be useful to know which Wnt genes, if any, are found in the blackworm genome. This would influence your ability to design suitable primers for even PCR or In Situ Hybridization experiments.
3. Anatomy - Are there any specific features of blackworm biology that are more relevant to human biology than planaria? Are there certain biological phenomena (e.g. axonal regeneration?) that might be more easily studied in blackworms than planaria?
As you can see, before you could begin a study of regeneration in blackworms, there may be several non-trivial technical hurdles to overcome that may be beyond the means of a high school project. Perhaps point #3 might be most technically accessible - for instance, you could do a detailed characterization of the anatomical events that occur during regeneration in blackworms, and even compare those to planaria in terms of duration and biology. You could ask questions like whether or not there are conserved events that occur during worm regeneration, or whether things like blastemas form during blackworm regeneration, similar to what occurs in some other organisms like zebrafish.
Importantly, I think it's amazing that the students have managed to formulate a very interesting and specific hypothesis (Wnt's in blackworm regeneration). Props to them and to you! Even though they (we)may currently lack the tools, it might be a useful exercise to discuss how one might test this hypothesis, perhaps drawing inspiration from planaria.
Just my two cents worth!
Just another comment - I noticed on Dr Charles Drewes page on blackworms that blackworms take 3-4 weeks to double in population. That is actually fairly slow, compared to C.elegans' multiplying from 1 to 300 worms in 3 days. I have no idea how long it takes for planaria to multiply.
Additionally, he mentions that it takes 2-3 weeks for the blackworm to regenerate fully. This is compared to the 7-9 days it takes for a planaria to regenerate.
With its relatively slow generation time and slower regeneration duration, the blackworm might not be as attractive a model organism in which to study regeneration, compared to planaria.
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