A microscopic worm commonly used in genetic studies was the first multicellular organism to have its genome sequenced. The worm, called Caenorhabditis elegans, lives in soil and grows to be a millimeter in length.
C. elegans was named for its elegant shape and movements.
Many genes in the worm are also present in humans, and the worm even has primitive digestive and neuromuscular systems. The worm’s body is translucent, so researchers can closely observe biological development as the worm grows from a fertilized egg to an adult with exactly 959 cells.
Three scientists were awarded the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discoveries made independently using C. elegans. Sydney Brenner, John E. Sulston, and H. Robert Horvitz were honored for their work on how genes control the development of organs and the death of cells.