The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans is an important model organism for the study of such diverse aspects of animal physiology and behavior as embryonic development, chemoreception, and the genetic control of lifespan. Yet, even though the entire genome sequence of this organism was deposited into public databases several years ago, little is known about xenobiotic metabolism in C. elegans. In part, the paucity of detoxification information may be due to the plush life enjoyed by nematodes raised in the laboratory. In the wild, however, these animals experience a much greater array of chemical assaults. Living in the interstitial water of the soil, populations of C. elegans exhibit a boom and bust lifestyle characterized by prodigious predation of soil microbes punctuated by periods of dispersal as a non-developing alternative larval stage. During the booming periods of population expansion, these animals almost indiscriminately consume everything in their environment including any number of compounds from other animals, microorganisms, plants, and xenobiotics. Several recent studies have identified many genes encoding sensors and enzymes these nematodes may use in their xeno-coping strategies. Here, we will discuss these recent advances, as well as the efforts by our lab and others to utilize the genomic resources of the C. elegans system to elucidate this nematode's molecular defenses against toxins.
(c) 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.