FRI Biology Stream

Glow Worms

anatomy & development, CRISPR, genome engineering, genetics, molecular biology, neuroscience

our research

Our Research

The Glow Worms research stream develops and utilizes CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technology in C. elegans to knock-in fluorescent protein tags at genetic loci that have human orthologs. The C. elegans genome encodes ~20K protein-encoding genes, ~40% of which have human homologs/orthologs.  Each Glow Worms researcher selects a novel gene of interest to target with CRISPR that is relevant to one of our three ongoing research projects.

  • Genes involved in establishing cell polarity during early embryogenesis.
  • Worm homologs of human neurodegeneration risk genes.
  • Genes that function as stress response markers in aging, pathogenesis, and/or toxicology.

Glow Worms Research Projects

  • Cell Polarity. This project is in collaboration with the faculty research laboratory of Dr. Dan Dickinson, Department of Molecular Biosciences. His laboratory studies how the C. elegans zygote divides asymmetrically, mostly by investigating the protein:protein interactions that regulate cell polarity. Glow Worms is tagging a subset of proteins identified as possible phosphorylation targets for atypical Protein Kinase C (aPKC; which is required for cell polarity and asymmetric cell division) to examine their expression pattern in zygotes. This involves live imaging of zygotes.
  • Neurodegeneration Project. It might surprise you that C. elegans is utilized as a disease model for several different neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. We launched a new tagging project in 2021 in collaboration with the research laboratory of Dr. Jon Pierce (Department of Neuroscience) and local biotech company Newormics to create tags for C. elegans orthologs of human neurodegenerative disease risk genes. Newormics will use these to screen for chemical therapeutics, whereas the Pierce lab will investigate the cellular function of these genes in neurons. Given the popularity of disease models, these tags will also be shared with the research community. 

Our Strategy

Each student in Glow Worms is tasked with selecting a gene of interest to our research goals and/or the worldwide C. elegans research community and creating a novel worm strain carrying fluorescent protein knock-in at that locus. Students are personally recognized for their strain contribution via the Caenorhabditis Genetics Center (CGC) website. The CGC distributes the strains worldwide on our behalf. Our goal as a stream is to generate 50 novel strains per year. We offer students an immersion research experience that aims to resemble an assistantship in an academic research laboratory. Based on our goal of community impact, our stream fosters a commitment to open and collaborative science for students at an early stage of their development as researchers.

Glow Worms researchers focus on contemporary scientific practices such as:

  • maintaining an electronic laboratory notebook
  • preparing a peer-reviewed microPublication of results
  • utilizing research community forums and social media platforms to connect students to scientists, resources, and data in ways that transcend traditional scientific meetings.

Our Impact

We utilize undergraduate research as an innovative infrastructure for building this valuable collection of strains.  Our goal is to serve the worldwide worm research community (~15,000 scientists) by making our knock-ins widely available via the Caenorhabditis Genetics Center (CGC). 


Our Team


Naomi Stolpner

  • Assistant Professor of Practice
  • College of Natural Sciences
Profile image of Daniel J. Dickinson

Daniel J. Dickinson

  • Assistant Professor
  • Molecular Biosciences


Course Credit
Research Outcomes