May 16, 2014

UAB researchers use roundworms to unlock new information on fertility

A paper in the journal Science about the fertility of roundworms may have implications for everything from captive pandas to infertile couples struggling to conceive.

The sexual behavior of the roundworm C. elegans is unusual, to say the least. This is an animal that can carry around its own sperm and eggs, producing offspring by itself early in its three-week lifespan. The worm’s fertility is finely tuned to its environment. When times are good — that is, the bacteria it eats are plentiful and there aren’t too many other worms around — each worm produces some 300 progeny before shuffling off this mortal coil. If food is running low and there’s a crowd growing, the worm’s reproductive system shuts down.