Awards Database

Cottrell Scholar Awards - 2014

Rebecca A. Butcher

Rebecca A. Butcher

Assistant Professor of Chemistry, University of Florida

Chemical Communication in C. Elegans and Incorporation of Natural Products Discovery into the Classroom

Nematodes, or roundworms, are found everywhere on earth, sometimes in concentrations of a million or more per square meter. There are more than 25,000 species, but one of the best known is C. elegans. A darling of scientific researchers, it was the first multicellular organism to have its genome completely sequenced and the first to have its neuronal connections completely mapped.

Butcher is studying how C. elegans uses small molecules to communicate information.

She is focused on a type of pheromone, which is a naturally secreted substance that triggers a social response in a member of the same species.

C. elegans uses a group of pheromones called “ascarosides” to control its development, as well as complex behaviors such as mating attraction and aggregation.

Many nematode species communicate with ascarosides, and many species are parasitic and cause disease in humans, animals, or plants. “Our work will open new avenues for interfering with the chemical communication in these species in order to reduce their survival,” Butcher said.

The Cottrell Scholar Award will also help fund Butcher’s teaching goals. She intends to develop a laboratory course in natural compounds that incorporates a discovery-based module to enable students to participate in authentic research.

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