Guisnet, A., Maitra, M., Pradhan, S. et al. 2021. A three-dimensional habitat for C. elegans environmental enrichment. PLoS ONE 16(1), e0245139.
As we learn more about the importance of gene-environment interactions and the effects of environmental enrichment, it becomes evident that minimalistic laboratory conditions can affect gene expression patterns and behaviors of model organisms. In the laboratory, Caenorhabditis elegans is generally cultured on two-dimensional, homogeneous agar plates abundantly covered with axenic bacteria culture as a food source. However, in the wild, this nematode thrives in rotting fruits and plant stems feeding on bacteria and small eukaryotes. This contrast in habitat complexity suggests that studying C. elegans in enriched laboratory conditions can deepen our understanding of its fundamental traits and behaviors. Here, we developed a protocol to create three-dimensional habitable scaffolds for trans-generational culture of C. elegans in the laboratory. Using decellularization and sterilization of fruit tissue, we created an axenic environment that can be navigated throughout and where the microbial environment can be strictly controlled. C. elegans were maintained over generations on this habitat, and showed a clear behavioral bias for the enriched environment. As an initial assessment of behavioral variations, we found that dauer populations in scaffolds exhibit high-frequency, complex nictation behavior including group towering and jumping behavior.