Functional Genomic Analysis of C. elegans Using RNA Interference

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Before we talk about this important experiment, do you know what a nematode is?

Specifically, this experiment used Caenorhabditis elegans, C. elegans for short. C. elegans is a little worm (just like the kind you find in the ground), but has a very special place in modern biochemistry: scientists have mapped its entire genomic sequence.

This sequence lets scientists know the character and location of all C. elegans' genes. However, biochemists do not yet fully understand what each gene does and the goal of this experiment is to find the function of each gene within the worm. The connection between a worm's genotype and phenotype is important, because, believe it or not, human beings and worms share many of the same
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All eukaryotic cells get their genetic information from DNA, which are strands of nucleotides whose order conveys genetic information to the cell. Structurally, DNA looks like a ladder. A DNA strand is made up of a sugar-phosphate backbone (similar to the sides of a ladder, alternating sugar and phosphate) and is connected in the middle with paired purines and pyrimidines (fancy names for four chemicals that make up the steps of the ladder). Scientists refer to the distinctive shape of DNA as "a double helix."

DNA replication is necessary for organisms to stay alive and reproduce. When cells replicate, the DNA must also be copied so the daughter cells contain the genetic information necessary to perform key chemical reactions. Cells have machinery that read the information in DNA and use these instructions to make proteins. To make proteins, the DNA must first unwind in order to be "read." This small section is then replicated to form a single stranded RNA strand. The RNA strand then forms what is called messenger RNA or simply mRNA. The mRNA is used to make the proteins the cell needs.

In some viruses, however, the genetic material is double stranded RNA (known as dsRNA), rather than DNA. These viruses inject their dsRNA into a host's cell. The