Unity Fishbowl Talks: "Nematodes: Cell Division, Worm Sperm, and Biodiversity"


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Unity Fishbowl Talks: "Nematodes: Cell Division, Worm Sperm, and Biodiversity"

Thursday, April 10, 2014 - 12:00pm , PW 204

Ellen Batchelder, Unity College Assistant Professor of Cell Biology

"Nematodes: Cell Division, Worm Sperm, and Biodiversity"

My past work with the small soil nematode Caenorhabditis elegans has focused on the cytoskeleton, a series of filaments and tubes that support cell shape, division, and movement.  Since cancerous cells grow, divide, and move in an unregulated way, basic research on the cytoskeleton helps us understand the mechanisms of cancer and to develop new treatments. Cell Division: While the process of cell division is similar to the contraction of muscle, my graduate work showed that, in C. elegans embryos, the signals that control timing of muscle contraction are not the same signals that control the contraction of the cell during division. Cell movement: Nematode sperm cells crawl, rather than swim. Their relatively simple nature makes them ideal for understanding how the cytoskeleton pushes and pulls to move cells forward. Using a biophysical approach we showed that the tension of the cell membrane is an important controlling factor on the cytoskeleton and cell speed. In the future, I hope to use my background with this species and with these techniques as a springboard for projects involving nematodes more broadly, for example, in studies of nematode diversity or of plant-parasitic nematode interactions.
Ellen Batchelder joined Unity College inspired to be working with colleagues to use basic science to illuminate broader environmental issues, by using nematodes as a model to understand how nematode pathogens interact with plants. When teaching, she aims to develop in students an appreciation and familiarity with biology at the cellular level, not only because cells are inherently fascinating, but because such knowledge provides the foundation for understanding the biology of organisms and informs concepts as varied as biofuel production and the effects of toxins on animal and human health.