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Worm Tracker... in 3-D!

By Alex B. Berezow

3-D movies are the latest entertainment sensation, and scientists want in on the fun. Caenorhabditis elegans, a 1-mm-long, transparent nematodeis one of a handful of model organisms that scientists use to study everything from genetics to developmental biology. Each adult male worm is made of precisely 1,031 somatic (body) cells, and this organism has been so well-studied that the developmental fate of each cell has been mapped.

Traditionally, experiments which study the animal's behavior have been in 2-D. But, a flat surface doesn't accurately model the worm's natural environment, which is in the soil or rotting fruit. So South Korean scientists invented a stereoscopic system that records the movements of the worm in 3-D. (See image.)

The stereoscopic system uses two cameras, placed at a 90 degree angle, which both focus on the same spot, thus creating a 3-D image. Because of the complex computer processing involved in generating the image, the researchers are unable to track the worms in real-time, but they are able to quantitatively measure the worm's motion as it wriggles about. For biologists who study these nematodes, such a system may come in quite handy.

However, despite its utility for biologists, "3-D worm tracker" still sounds like the sort of project that might be honored with an Ig Nobel Prize.

Source: Kwon N, Pyo J, Lee S-J, Je JH (2013) 3-D Worm Tracker for Freely Moving C. elegans. PLoS ONE 8(2): e57484. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0057484

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