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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Life cycle and population growth rate of Caenorhabditis elegans studied by a new method

Daniel Muschiol*, Fabian Schroeder and Walter Traunspurger

Author Affiliations

Animal Ecology, University Bielefeld, Morgenbreede 45, 33615 Bielefeld, Germany

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BMC Ecology 2009, 9:14  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-9-14

Published: 16 May 2009



The free-living nematode Caenorhabditis elegans is the predominant model organism in biological research, being used by a huge number of laboratories worldwide. Many researchers have evaluated life-history traits of C. elegans in investigations covering quite different aspects such as ecotoxicology, inbreeding depression and heterosis, dietary restriction/supplement, mutations, and ageing. Such traits include juvenile growth rates, age at sexual maturity, adult body size, age-specific fecundity/mortality, total reproduction, mean and maximum lifespan, and intrinsic population growth rates. However, we found that in life-cycle experiments care is needed regarding protocol design. Here, we test a recently developed method that overcomes some problems associated with traditional cultivation techniques. In this fast and yet precise approach, single individuals are maintained within hanging drops of semi-fluid culture medium, allowing the simultaneous investigation of various life-history traits at any desired degree of accuracy. Here, the life cycles of wild-type C. elegans strains N2 (Bristol, UK) and MY6 (Münster, Germany) were compared at 20°C with 5 × 109 Escherichia coli ml-1 as food source.


High-resolution life tables and fecundity schedules of the two strains are presented. Though isolated 700 km and 60 years apart from each other, the two strains barely differed in life-cycle parameters. For strain N2 (n = 69), the intrinsic rate of natural increase (rmd-1), calculated according to the Lotka equation, was 1.375, the net reproductive rate (R0) 291, the mean generation time (T) 90 h, and the minimum generation time (Tmin) 73.0 h. The corresponding values for strain MY6 (n = 72) were rm = 1.460, R0 = 289, T = 84 h, and Tmin = 67.3 h. Peak egg-laying rates in both strains exceeded 140 eggs d-1. Juvenile and early adulthood mortality was negligible. Strain N2 lived, on average, for 16.7 d, while strain MY6 died 2 days earlier; however, differences in survivorship curves were statistically non-significant.


We found no evidence that adaptation to the laboratory altered the life history traits of C. elegans strain N2. Our results, discussed in the light of earlier studies on C. elegans, demonstrate certain advantages of the hanging drop method in investigations of nematode life cycles. Assuming that its reproducibility is validated in further studies, the method will reduce the inter-laboratory variability of life-history estimates and may ultimately prove to be more convenient than the current standard methods used by C. elegans researchers.