International Worm Conference Includes a Group of Bears

Three Ursinus College students and an alumna joined Professor Rebecca Lyczak at the 22nd International C. elegans Conference in Los Angeles in June.

The conference brought together more than 1,500 researchers from around the world who study the microscopic round worm, a model organism regularly used in the study of genetics. Zoe Tesone ’21, Caprice Eisele ’20 and Andrew Belville ’21—who each study in Lyczak’s Ursinus research lab—presented their own research at a scientific poster session during the conference and attended talks on all types of research involving the worm.

“Participation is significant for our students because it gives them a chance to present to leaders in the field,” Lyczak said. “The researchers who came to see their posters have written many of the articles the students have read in preparation for their work. In addition, the large majority of participants are Ph.D. scientists or graduate students. Very few undergraduates attend.”

The C. elegans community (worm community) is very friendly and helpful. The students got to see Nobel Laureates at the meeting interacting with researchers at all levels. There was even a worm art show and a worm comedy show. The students were fully indoctrinated into the worm community!”

The students also met a former Ursinus student and Lyczak lab member, Kate Power ’15, who performed her honors research in Lyczak’s laboratory while at Ursinus. She is currently pursuing her doctoral degree at Rutgers University, where she continues to study C. elegans.

The current Ursinus students presented two posters. Eisele presented work on a project in which Lyczak’s lab is looking for genetic interactions between two different genes, pam-1 and wee-1.3.

“We have found that worms that have a mutation in either the first or the second gene have developmental defects. However, combining the two mutations together in the worm actually makes the worm develop more normally again. We are interested in understanding how this interaction works,” Lyczak explained.

Tesone and Belville presented a second poster together. In this work, they are looking at the pam-1 mutant worms and trying to understand what is causing the developmental defects.

“We have discovered that the cytoskeleton of the cell (the proteins that provide structure and dynamic movement to the cell) are not behaving normally in this mutant. Their projects are focusing in on different components of the cytoskeleton to try to learn how PAM-1 is regulating this network of proteins,” she said.

Overall, the focus of the lab is to understand how normal cellular processes like cell division are regulated. C. elegans are used as a model to understand this.

The conference is held every other year and Lyczak and her students have attended most years since 2003.