What is C. elegans?:

(courtesy the Caenorhabditis Genetics Center [CGC], based at the University of Minnesota)

(courtesy North Carolina State University)

Wormbase (the C. elegans database):

Mirrors (note, links may be dead):





Wormatlas (anatomy of the worm):

Old mirror of Leon Avery’s C. elegans website (no longer updated, but still a great resource of general info):

(courtesy Virginia Commonwealth University)

General information about Caenorhabditis elegans, (pronounced “see ella-gans”, a.k.a., “the worm”)

About my research

I.  Bench Research:

  1. 1)Genetics, mutagenesis, gene targeting and related methodological approaches.  In the course of my Ph.D. thesis work, I developed a novel approach for the targeted alteration of C. elegans genes by gene conversion (Barrett et al.,  This knockout approach utilizes gene conversion to target engineered alterations into the C. elegans genome.  Since arriving to Xavier, I have expanded this research area in several important ways.  First, I have begun investigating the possibility of the direct use of oligonucleotides to perform gene conversion, and to develop C. elegans as a model of gene therapy.  Also, I have involved undergraduates in research, using ultraviolet light as a mutagen to perform chromosomal integration of C. elegans transgenes.

  1. 2)Neurobiology and behavior.  C. elegans has served admirably for several decades as a genetic model organism for neurobiological and behavioral studies.  For my Ph.D. thesis work, I characterized a receptor gene (tkr-1) in C. elegans similar to the tachykinin (neuropeptide) G-protein–coupled receptors in mammals, and studied the role of neuropeptides in behavior.  The tkr-1 neuropeptide receptor functions in egglaying and possibly other important behaviors in the worm.  A better grasp of the function of this receptor in a simple model system, such as the worm, could lead to a better idea of its function in higher organisms, such as humans.  We have further extended our work to worm nociception and the response of worms to other classes of neuropeptides, including opioids.

  1. 3)Cell biology and cancer.  For my postdoctoral training, I additionally expanded my studies into the fields of cell biology, growth regulation, morphogenesis, and the cytoskeleton. In the worm, erm-1 and nfm-1 are homologs of the ezrin-radixin-moesin (ERM) and Neurofibromatosis II (Merlin) family of membrane-cytoskeleton linker genes, respectively, which have been implicated in growth regulation and cancer in humans.  Continuing work will better our understanding of the basic underlying function(s) of these molecules, which in turn may help toward an understanding of their roles in higher systems, and their dysfunction in disease states such as cancer.  These studies also tie in very well with my teaching Cell Biology lecture and laboratory courses in the Biology Department at XU.

Each project in the abovementioned areas is highly suitable for undergraduate participation, and the students’ results have served as a foundation for additional studies.

II.  Pedagogy:

Teaching and scholarship go hand in hand.  While it is very interesting to work on specific research projects in a laboratory setting, it is equally rewarding to participate in pedagogical studies that enhance the many aspects of teaching.  Since my arrival at XU, I have been working on several projects of this kind.  These have ranged from developing new lecture courses, test banks, and paperless quizzes, to translating student-based research into the classroom, in form of teaching lab exercises.  I am also interested in incorporating technological tools into the classroom, for better assessment of students’ understanding and analyses of results.  An example of such a project is the H-ITT “clickers” and their application to bettering student preparation and classroom performance.  With a renewed focus all across the United States on undergraduate education, I-- like many of my colleagues-- am looking forward to contributing more to this field, by developing and engaging in outcomes-driven pedagogical projects that will have a positive impact on literally hundreds of students at Xavier.

Notable lab alumni

Alicia Pressley-Moss, M.D., currently a resident at Children’s Hospital, University of Arkansas Medical Center

Angela Pressley, M.D., currently a resident at Children’s Hospital, University of Arkansas Medical Center

Jenna Hill, currently a graduate student at the University of New Orleans, Department of Biological Sciences

Lynez Preyan, currently a Pharmacy student at Xavier University School of Pharmacy

Rebekah Sadaiappen, M.S., currently a faculty member at Xavier University, Department of Biology