Medical Research Live – The WormWatch Lab

The Wormwatch Lab is a live online ‘citizen scientists’ experiment created by the LMB’s William Schafer, André E X Brown who is now at MRC Clinical Sciences Centre, and the citizen science organisation Zooniverse, to help understand how genes affect behaviour by measuring egg laying in different mutant nematode worms.

Egg laying in the nematode worm requires proper functioning of a neural circuit that is modulated by serotonin, the same molecule that affects mood in humans. Differences in egg laying behaviour in a particular mutant may be due to a defect in the serotonin neural circuit, which may reveal how the mutated gene is involved in depression in humans.

The Schafer group developed tracking microscopes to record video of crawling worms. The trackers work without supervision, allowing a large number of movies of different mutant nematode worms to be recorded. However screening the movies to identify changes in behaviour cannot be automated and is very time consuming, making the research highly suitable for a citizen science project.

The Wormwatch online experiment asked members of the public to view the videos and classify each by marking when egg laying occurred. To date 11,582 volunteers have reviewed all 74,016 videos of mutant worms, submitting 655,681 classifications. New types of behaviour have been identified and analysis of the data is continuing.