Worms Can Be Kind of Cute…

When I was accepted for the EUREKA Internship, I thought it was so amazing how I was going to be starting research and that I had this opportunity as a first year. However, I didn’t realize that just because the internship program accepted me didn’t mean that a lab would. The research world is a bit of a tease; instead of replying a quick yes or no, most researchers won’t reply at all, leaving you wondering and worrying. Some example thoughts that ran through my own head during the strenuous process of finding a lab: “maybe they just didn’t see it”, “oh no, what if they’re ignoring me”, “maybe they’re just playing hard to get and I should send them five more emails”, and lastly if your faculty advisor of interest is a frequent traveler, “maybe their plane crashed, and that’s why they won’t reply to my email”. I spent two months emailing, waiting, showing up at offices, and borderline stalking different PI’s just to get in contact with someone before I finally got a reply for an interview, with some help from the EUREKA Program Coordinator, Arica Lubin.

Much to my excitement, the long awaited reply came from Dr. Joel Rothman, whose lab focuses on developmental biology, the field I was, and am still, most interested in, as I’ve always found it fascinating how we all start as one tiny cell and then become these walking, talking beings. The Rothman lab studies all sorts of developmental pathways using C. elegans as a model. What the heck is a C. elegans, you ask? Well, it should have been a question I asked too, long before asking to be in the lab because C. elegans are worms, and guess what I have a ginormous phobia of. WORMS. I didn’t find this out until about halfway through the interview, which I thought was going fabulously as every project they were describing was like music to my ears, exploring almost every part of my interests. But then my soon to be mentor, Geneva Miller, brought up another one of her projects in more detail which was, if I remember correctly, “amplifying a gene that codes for gut development that would then make more mini guts in the pharynx and uterus regions of the worm”. Gene amplification? Cool. Manipulating organ development? Super cool. Worms? Nope, nope, nope. At that point, I was in too deep, all I could do was keep smiling and focus on the science because this lab’s research area was perfect for me and also I was running out of time to find a lab before the school year ended.

Once the initial anxiety subsided, and I got a very blunt pep talk from my roommate teetering between “Face your fears, you can do it!” and “Quit being such a baby and get to science-ing!” I decided to keep my little fear to myself. I decided to do some of my own research on these little worms before the internship started and I found out that these things were only 1mm long. How could I be afraid of that? After the first day of watching them roll around in their E. coli seeded agar plates, I fell a little bit in love with the silly little hermaphrodites. Since then, I have picked, plated, and cultivated my own beautiful little worm families, and it’s all for the greater good of mankind. You’re welcome, everyone.

c elegans

C. elegans

With that being said, I would also like to elaborate on why the title of this post includes “kind of”. Before being in the lab I had never heard of what a “bag of worms” was or what it meant for a worm to “bag”, until I observed it with my own two, once pure, eyes. A “bag of worms” occurs when a worm becomes ill or has a problem with its vulva and cannot properly lay eggs so the eggs hatch inside the mother and the embryos continue to develop until they become too large and burst through the mother. Sometimes when a viewer is unaware of the misfortunate worm’s bagging situation they can be tricked into thinking the worm is still alive because they will continue to move, but don’t be fooled, the movements one may see are all the eager larvae struggling to break free, creating a puppet like effect on the worm. This, my friends, does not fall under the category of cute.

For your viewing pleasure: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L5zOLQgCpFo

*viewer discretion is advised, it is gross.