Brown University School of Engineering

Special Biomedical Engineering Seminar: “Small molecule signaling in the model organism Caenorhabditis elegans”

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Monday, November 18, 2013 11:00am - 12:00pm

The model organism C. elegans has traditionally been used to explore gene function. In the past ten years, though, it has been shown that this nematode utilizes a diverse class of small molecules called ascarosides to affect a variety of biological phenomena including development, aging, and mating. Ascaroside profiling studies focused on the predominant C. elegans sex, the self-replicating hermaphrodite, have revealed over 100 members of this small molecule family. Male C. elegans, which make up less than 1% of the population, have not been the subject of previous studies, despite the sex-specific function of many ascarosides. Furthermore, many aspects of ascaroside biosynthesis remain incomplete. We show that male C. elegans produce a sex-specific blend of ascarosides and that this blend has implications for mating. Genetic data support a model for sex-specific regulation of ascaroside production. Furthermore, we profiled a C. elegans mutant defective in ascaroside biosynthesis using automated 2D NMR-based comparative metabolomics. This analysis led to the identification of novel shunt metabolites and associated the biosynthesis of two conserved biochemical pathways, peroxisomal β-oxidation and endocannabinoid biosynthesis. These studies highlight that metabolomic analysis is necessary to achieve a comprehensive understanding of gene function and biochemical networks.