The Nucleus of Intestinal Cells of the Bacterivore Nematode Caenorhabditis elegans as a Sensitive Sensor of Environmental Pollutants

Methods Mol Biol. 2020;2175:207-217. doi: 10.1007/978-1-0716-0763-3_15.


Prevalent environmental challenges are climate change, the biodiversity crisis, and the global scale of environmental pollution. We identified the cell nucleus as a sensitive sensor for bio-effects of pollutants such as mercury and nanoparticles. As a major route of pollutant uptake into organisms is ingestion, we have developed a test system that uses single intestinal cells of the nematode roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans. Microscopic observation of the cell nucleus in reporter worms for the methyltransferase fibrillarin (FIB-1::GFP) revealed nuclear staining patterns that are specific for pollutants such as silica nanoparticles, BULK silica particles, silver nanoparticles, ionic AgNO3, and inorganic mercury (HgCl2). While the underlying molecular mechanisms need further investigation, cultivation of the reporter worms in liquid culture on microtiter plates now enables cost-effective screening of more pollutants and samples from the environment, e.g., mesocosm analyses. As C. elegans leads a dual life in the lab and in ecosystems, alteration of nuclear structure and function may likewise explain how environmental pollutants reduce the fitness of wild worms and thus may negatively affect biodiversity.

Keywords: Cell nucleus; Environment; Food; Global change; Gut; Mercury; Mesocosm; Nanomaterial; Nematodes; Pollutants.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biosensing Techniques / methods*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / drug effects*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / physiology
  • Cell Nucleus / drug effects*
  • Chromosomal Proteins, Non-Histone / analysis
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / analysis
  • Intestines / drug effects*
  • Mercuric Chloride / toxicity
  • Models, Animal
  • Nanoparticles / toxicity
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / analysis
  • Silicon Dioxide / toxicity
  • Silver Nitrate / toxicity
  • Single-Cell Analysis / methods*


  • Chromosomal Proteins, Non-Histone
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins
  • fibrillarin
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Mercuric Chloride
  • Silicon Dioxide
  • Silver Nitrate