End of an era: The C. elegans genetic map is now frozen.

Nearly 50 years after Sydney Brenner’s letter to Max Perutz set the wheels in motion for the use of Caenorhabditis elegans as a potent genetic model system, leading eventually to six Nobel prizes and a global research community numbering in the thousands, a new threshold has been crossed.

Starting with the latest release of the C. elegans genome (WS232 in worm-speak), the genetic map is now FROZEN. Recombinational distances have changed very little over the last three years, a testament both to the fine granularity of the genetic map as well as — perhaps — to shifting tides in experimental approaches.

New mutations, deficiencies and rearrangements will still be placed on the map but simply assigned an interpolated genetic position.

Targeted gene deletions in C. elegans using transposon excision

“Targeted gene deletions in C. elegans using transposon excision” is now available in advance online publication form at Nature Methods.

Even after 40 years of intense genetics in the model system C. elegans, a large majority of genes have not yet been disabled by deletion. Although targeted deletions have been possible in flies and mice for years, the technology has been elusive in worms.

An early model for open access reopens (say hello to the new Worm Breeder’s Gazette!)

The Worm Breeder’s Gazette was an early model of open access publishing. Today, it returns.

The C. elegans research community has a long tradition of open access.

This spirit led the community to adopt early a standard nomenclature for genes, alleles, proteins, strains, and mutant phenotypes. Standardization made it vastly easier to discuss biological concepts and to share reagents. As the community grew, a stock center was established which thrives to this day. As the genome was cloned as proof-of-concept for sequencing a large genome, cosmids were available with just a quick email.

But it wasn’t just shared nomenclature that bound the community together. The annual C. elegans meeting was a single session. It was believed that in order to understand the corner you were trying to tease apart that you needed to understand the entire organism. To this day, presentations often include raw and unpublished data. Posters are rarely limited to just what’s in the publishing pipeline.

The C. elegans community also pioneered electronic collection, curation, and dissemination of data, through the standalone genomic database AceDB, gopher, BBSs, early websites, and in 2000, with the launch of the comprehensive curated online repository WormBase.

In general, people in the worm field are psyched to share what they know regardless of its publication status.

This is particularly evident from The Worm Breeder’s Gazette. The WBG began as a printed newsletter in December 1975 as an ad-hoc collection of preliminary results, methods, and sometimes pure speculation. Each abstract was limited to one page in length, mimeographed and assembled into a printed booklet complete with a cover depicting worms in various absurd endeavors. No editors. No peer review. Freely available (well, nearly so).

The Gazette continued in printed form until May of 2003. It provided many young researchers a chance to hone their writing skills and to report preliminary data. And it was a model for the Open Access revolution now taking place.

Some of these things have changed as the community has grown larger. But today I’m happy to announce the return of The Worm Breeder’s Gazette. We’re following the casual format of before, with short abstracts limited to a printed page in length. Abstracts are cross-linked to WormBase for genes, variations, and proteins, as well as to external resources when appropriate. To retain the feel of a newsletter, we’ll be publishing the Gazette twice a year.