United Worms of America

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Evolution is the main driving force behind the diversity of life. We’ve known this fact since the publishing of On the Origin of Species in 1859, but we’re still trying to determine what exactly causes one species to break off into two species. New advances in genome sequencing has made it simple and cost-effective to compare the genomes of two species and see how they are similar, giving a better idea of how long ago those two species diverged, as well as what changes caused the two species to become genetically distinct. The model organism Caenorhabditis elegans has been widely studied and characterized, but until recently, there were not many related species of nematodes (worms) to compare it with. Turns out, scientists were looking in the wrong spots! Nematodes prefer to hang out in rotten fruit, not in soil as previously thought. This is where we need your help! The United Worms of America wants to find more worm species. If you send us rotten fruit you’ve found on the ground, we’ll see if any worms crawl out. If they do, then we’ll tell you what you’ve found! Who knows, you may help discover the next species of Caenorhabditis! Check out what people have already found here!

How you can help:

1. Take plastic bags and a pen/marker with you before leaving home (Optional: bring a smartphone to take pictures.)

2. Look for VERY rotten fruits that have fallen to the ground. Usually they can be found under trees, brushes, or other types of vegetation

3. If you can, use a smartphone or a camera to take a picture of the rotten fruit.

4. Use the plastic bag to collect the fruit from the ground. It only needs to be a small piece of the fruit. Be sure to seal the bag well, so the worms can’t crawl out!

5. Write on the bag (1) the date, (2) the location the fruit was found, and (3) the type of fruit (if you know.)

6. Mail the fruit to UWA (located in the Ailion lab at UW):
Ailion Lab
Department of Biochemistry, Box 357350
1705 NE Pacific St
Seattle WA 98195-7350

You can also email us the picture of the rotten fruit as well as your contact info, so we can update you if we find any worms!

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Can I send old fruits and veggies from my kitchen that I can’t use?
A: The worms crawl up fro the soil into rotten fruit, so produce from your kitchen won’t have any worms in it. However, you can put produce outside in your yard and then grab a sample a few days later!

Q: I live outside the United States. Can I still send you fruit?
A: Unfortunately, there are federal regulations that prohibit sending produce internationally without going through the proper channels. However, you CAN help us by spreading the word to friends and family that live within the United States! You can do this easily by inviting them to our Facebook group.

Q: Should I be worried about the worms potentially harming me?
A: While there are parasitic nematodes (hookworms, pinworms, etc.), the nematodes we are interested in are harmless to humans. However, it is always a good idea to wash your hands after collecting rotten fruit samples, as you can’t be sure of what kinds of bacteria and mold have caused the rot.