Some cells are meant to live, and some are meant to die. The linker cell of Caenorhabditis elegans, a tiny worm that is a favored model organism for biologists, is among those destined for termination. This cell helps determine the shape of the gonad in male worms–and then it dies, after two days, just as the worms are transitioning from larvae into adults. This programmed cell death is a normal part of the animal’s development, yet the genetic and molecular mechanisms underpinning it have not been worked out.
This dying worm linker cell, captured by electron microscopy, has features in common with neurons that expire prematurely due to neurodegenerative disease.
Credit: The Laboratory of Developmental Genetics at The Rockefeller University/eLife