There and back again with the worm lab

All animals come in contact with and must survive a variety of stresses every day, from environmental conditions such as temperature or resource availability to encounters with pathogens. In the Powell lab, we examine how the (best) model organism C. elegans, affectionately known as the worm, responds to such stresses. You might be wondering what a worm, composed of a mere 959 somatic cells can tell us about other organisms, especially ourselves. In fact, there are a lot of conserved/homologous genes shared between worms and humans, so meet your 1 mm long, hermaphroditic, bacteriavoric, invertebrate relative.


This summer, Zoe Yeoh ’18 and San Luc ’20 are continuing to examine the worm innate immune response, the worm’s defense to pathogenic infection. Using a variety of different genetic tools, they are attempting to determine how different immune pathways interact to recognize and respond to infection effectively in order for the worm to survive. In particular, they are working on a facet of the innate immune system called the oxidative stress response, a system that responds to the reactive oxygen species produced by pathogenic bacteria in order to harm the host.  Meanwhile, Leah Gulyas ’19 looks at how worms respond to thermal stress, specifically acute cold shock, in which worms are plunged from a comfortable 20°C to the slightly less accommodating temperature of 2°C.

Meet the members of our lab and hear a bit about what we’ve been up to this summer!


Our fearless leader (Dr. Powell)

DSCN1769 redone 2

Hard on the grant-writing trail.


Zoe Yeoh ’18


I work on the relationship between a gene called skn-1, a master regulator of the oxidative stress response, and fshr-1 which is known to play an important role in the innate immune system. I am looking for possible interactions between these two proteins to better characterize how worms and other organisms respond to oxidative stress.

San Luc ’20


I am working with a gene called bli-3, which codes for the production of reactive oxygen species- an important mechanism in the worm innate immune system. My research looks at how this gene acts as part of the defense system, and how it interacts with the G-protein coupled receptor fshr-1, also crucial for the innate immune system.

Leah Gulyas ’19


Worms that are exposed to extremely cold temperatures undergo a set of predictable phenotypic changes that seem to have evolved as progeny investment technique. I am currently examining how vitellogenins, a class of proteins that are involved in lipid transport between the intestine and the germline, may be involved in this phenomenon, as well as how neuronal sensation and canonical stress response genes may also play a role in determining cold stress survival.


There and back again, a worm geneticist’s tale

We recently had the opportunity to attend the 2017 International C. elegans conference held in UCLA, with thousands of worm geneticists. San stayed back to keep the lab going, and while our lab was divided, we all kept extremely busy, having a productive week.

In California…

After a long and informative day of workshops and research presentations, we finished the day with a bout of bear wrangling (not Beorn).



Back in Gettysburg…

San cares for her worms.

In California…

We present our posters at one of the three poster session at the conference, and get to exchange experimental ideas and speak with scientists from all over the world.


Back in Gettysburg

San harvests her worms.


In California…

In a little bit of spare time, we make a pilgrimage to one of the greatest art museums in the world, the Getty, a mecca of history and culture.


Back in Gettysburg…

San feeds her worms.

sad san 3


In California…

We attend a scientist dance party.


Back in Gettysburg

After a long day’s work, San finally gets to take a nap in the peace and quiet of lab.

happy san


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