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Radiation Biology Research Are radiation induced effects observed in the cells of C. Elegans important in human tissues? . Darlene Jones – NPI E3 Teacher – Summer 2011 Columbia High School/Columbia-Brazoria ISD

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Radiation Biology Research Are radiation induced effects observed in the cells of C. Elegansimportant in human tissues?

Darlene Jones – NPI E3 Teacher – Summer 2011

Columbia High School/Columbia-Brazoria ISD

Dr. John Ford, Associate Professor, Department of Nuclear Engineering, Texas A & M University

what is nuclear engineering
What is nuclear engineering?
  • The practical application of nuclear physics (the study of radiation and matter)
  • The design, building and operation of nuclear fission systems (nuclear weapons and nuclear reactors)
  • Effective handling of nuclear wastes and environmental protection, nuclear fuel technology
  • Effective and safe use of radioactivity in the medical field (imaging and cancer therapy)
radiological health engineers health physics medical physics
Radiological Health EngineersHealth Physics/Medical Physics
  • Research area is interdisciplinary
  • Health physicists are involved in understanding, evaluating, and controlling the potential risks to the population from radiation relative to it’s benefits
dr john ford
Dr. John Ford
  • University of Tennessee Ph.D. 1992 Biomedical Sciences Dissertation Title: Effects of Alpha-Particle Radiation on Rat Tracheal Epithelial Cells.
  • Mississippi State University M.S. 1986 Nuclear Engineering Thesis Title: A Computer Analysis of Damage to Human Tissues by Neutrons Using Monte Carlo Techniques.
  • Mississippi State University B.S. 1982 Nuclear Engineering

Some of the courses taught by Dr. Ford:

Graduate Level

Radiation Carcinogenesis

Radiation Biology

Internal Dose Techniques

Worker Physiology

Special Topics in Radiation Biology

Health Physics Instrumentation


Introduction to Nuclear Engineering I

Foundations of Engineering I

Nuclear Detection & Isotope Laboratory

Nuclear Engineering Experiments

Operational Health Physics for Advanced Reactors

Subcritical Experimentation and Modeling

Undergraduate Honors

Modern Techniques in Cancer Research

Applications of Radiation to Modern Problems

Engineering People

research area
Research Area:

Dr. Ford’s research deals with the response of tissues to ionizing radiation.

The cosmic radiation that astronauts are exposed to in space represents a risk during space travel.

Dr. Ford is interested in the effects of HZE particles on humans in space; therefore, he has worked with researchers at the Johnson Space Center and has had research funded by NASA and NSBRI.

HZE stands for a component of cosmic radiation consisting of energetic heavy (H) nuclei (atomic number 3 or greater); so named for their high atomic number (Z) and energy (E).

radiation two types
Radiation – Two Types

The electromagnetic spectrum is electromagnetic radiation. Ionizing radiation is particle radiation. Examples of particles include hydrogen protons and helium ions.

The C. elegansresearch project uses alpha particles (helium ions) to irradiate the specimens. This is a form of ionizing radiation.


Nuclear engineers must design systems that use radiation safely and reduce the public’s exposure to radiation.

Ongoing question:

How much ionizing radiation exposure is safe to humans?

research question
Research Question:
  • Do cells that surround a cell exposed to ionizing radiation undergo any cellular changes attributable to the radiation exposure?
  • Enter the “excellent in vivo model organism for radiation biology – C. Elegans

This nematode lives in the soil, eats bacteria, and is about 1 mm in length.

c elegans excellent in vivo model for radiation biology
C. Elegans - excellent ”in vivo” model for radiation biology
  • Organism has simple growth conditions and reproduces rapidly with a life span of approximately 2-3 weeks.
  • The cell lineage of the organism is known and does not vary.
  • The organism can be easily genetically engineered for research purposes.
  • The genome for C. eleganshas been

completely sequenced.

anatomy life cycle of c elegans
Anatomy & Life Cycle of C.elegans

Note: Size and simple anatomy of the animal

Dr. Ford’s research irradiates worms that are at L1 stage, then observes the worms as they mature to the adult stage. The L1 stage occurs about 4 hours after eggs hatch.

using genetically engineered c elegans to allow for specific targeting of intestinal cells
Using genetically engineered C. Elegans to allow for specific targeting of intestinal cells

The specific intestinal cells of the gut are glowing, which makes exact targeting of the micro beam precise (allowing for the irradiation of one cell).

collimators and irradiation stage
Collimators and Irradiation Stage

Collimator-device that filters a stream of rays in order that only those rays traveling parallel to the one direction are allowed through

data and conclusions
Data and Conclusions

Once the worms have grown to the L4 stage, they are fixed and treated with a DNA stain.

This stain allows the nuclei of the cells to be visible to the researcher.

*****Remember: what we are trying to see is if the cells surrounding a cell exposed to radiation also experience changes to their cellular DNA.

The following is some of the data

resulting from this research:

quantitation of anaphase bridges in the intestinal cells of c elegans
Quantitation of Anaphase Bridges in the Intestinal Cells of C. elegans


Normal L4 stage: Binucleate polyploid cell.

L1 stage

Dicentric Lesion:

L4 binucleate

cell with bridge

Irradiate Newly-Hatched L1 Larvae


Examples of Anaphase Bridges in Non-targeted Cells




Worm 95

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9




1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Worm 66




1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Worm 96





1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Worm 50


Bystander Effect was observed. Bystander effect is:

An effect/change in the cells surrounding the irradiated cell. This slide illustrates the increase in p53 (transcriptase enzyme) levels and elevated SCE levels (Sister Chromatid Exchange) in the cells that surround the irradiated cell.

These observations then raise these questions:

Is the bystander effect good or bad?

How is this signal communicated between these cells?

Future research will attempt to answer these questions.

back to the original question
Back to the original question…

These tiny animals are assisting mankind by helping us to answer the question:

How much exposure to ionizing radiation is a risk to our health?

These exposure levels are increasing, as medical imaging and radiation therapies become more common in society, we need to know our long term risk.

Radiation biology & radiation health engineers find the answers to these questions.

procedures in lab
Procedures in Lab

Locating C. elegans(Worms) in the Petri Dishes that are smaller that 1mm in length

Transfer of C. elegans (Worms) using micropipettes

c elegans in the news
C.elegans in the news:
  • C. elegans made news when it was discovered that specimens had survived the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in February 2003.
  • Descendants of the worms that were aboard Columbia in 2003 were launched into space on Endeavour for the STS-134 mission on May 16, 2011.

upcoming research
Upcoming Research:

Studying the effects of radiation on the micro vascular tissue of the wings of pallid bats.

Will surrounding tissue areas reflect cell damage? At what dose levels?

Why and how does the cellular damage occur?

  • Texas A & M University – E3 Program
    • Dr. John Ford – TAMU Nuclear Engineering
  • National Science Foundation
  • Nuclear Power Institute
  • Texas Workforce Commission