The genetics of feeding in Caenorhabditis elegans

Genetics. 1993 Apr;133(4):897-917.


The pharynx of Caenorhabditis elegans is a nearly self-contained neuromuscular organ responsible for feeding. To identify genes involved in the development or function of the excitable cells of the pharynx, I screened for worms with visible defects in pharyngeal feeding behavior. Fifty-two mutations identified 35 genes, at least 22 previously unknown. The genes broke down into three broad classes: 2 pha genes, mutations in which caused defects in the shape of the pharynx, 7 phm genes, mutations in which caused defects in the contractile structures of the pharyngeal muscle, and 26 eat genes, mutants in which had abnormal pharyngeal muscle motions, but had normally shaped and normally birefringent pharynxes capable of vigorous contraction. Although the Eat phenotypes were diverse, most resembled those caused by defects in the pharyngeal nervous system. For some of the eat genes there is direct evidence from previous genetic mosaic and pharmacological studies that they do in fact affect nervous system. In eat-5 mutants the motions of the different parts of the pharynx were poorly synchronized. eat-6 and eat-12 mutants failed to relax their pharyngeal muscles properly. These pharyngeal motion defects are most easily explained as resulting from abnormal electrical excitability of the pharyngeal muscle membrane.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / physiology
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Genes, Helminth
  • Muscle, Smooth / physiology
  • Mutation
  • Nervous System Physiological Phenomena
  • Pharynx / physiology
  • Phenotype
  • Videotape Recording