Quantifying phenotypic variation in isogenic Caenorhabditis elegans expressing Phsp-16.2::gfp by clustering 2D expression patterns

PLoS One. 2010 Jul 19;5(7):e11426. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0011426.


Isogenic populations of animals still show a surprisingly large amount of phenotypic variation between individuals. Using a GFP reporter that has been shown to predict longevity and resistance to stress in isogenic populations of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, we examined residual variation in expression of this GFP reporter. We found that when we separated the populations into brightest 3% and dimmest 3% we also saw variation in relative expression patterns that distinguished the bright and dim worms. Using a novel image processing method which is capable of directly analyzing worm images, we found that bright worms (after normalization to remove variation between bright and dim worms) had expression patterns that correlated with other bright worms but that dim worms fell into two distinct expression patterns. We have analysed a small set of worms with confocal microscopy to validate these findings, and found that the activity loci in these clusters are caused by extremely bright intestine cells. We also found that the vast majority of the fluorescent signal for all worms came from intestinal cells as well, which may indicate that the activity of intestinal cells is responsible for the observed patterns. Phenotypic variation in C. elegans is still not well understood but our proposed novel method to analyze complex expression patterns offers a way to enable a better understanding.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / metabolism*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / genetics
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / metabolism*
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / genetics
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / metabolism*
  • Heat-Shock Proteins / genetics
  • Heat-Shock Proteins / metabolism*
  • Microscopy, Confocal


  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins
  • Heat-Shock Proteins
  • hsp-16.2 protein, C elegans
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins