‘Geneticists already knew that the environment determines the activity of genes in an organism,’ says Dr Jan Kammenga of the Nematology Group. ‘The news is that we now know that a change in temperature leads to a drastic change in the genetic network of organisms.’
The change is visible in the way the genes interact. ‘Imagine that at a low temperature activity of gene A is accompanied by activity from gene B, then at high temperature activity of gene A is accompanied by activity from gene C. This means that metabolic routes in nematodes alter as temperature changes.’
The discovery has implications for genetic research, says Kammenga. ‘We often work with mutants of which one of 22,400 genes has changed. We compare the way in which a mutant functions genetically with the way the genes function in a non-mutated C. elegans. Now we realise that we should do the comparison at different temperatures.’
Kammenga was leader of a joint team of researchers from Wageningen, Utrecht and Groningen, that measured the influence of temperature on the genes of C. elegans. The results of the research were published recently in PLoS Genetics.