Navigating Nematodes: Tips for Successful Worm Picking

Written by Levon Tokmakjian, PhD Candidate at University of Toronto

The process of worm picking is a fundamental skill for those working with the nematode C. elegans. Employed in various applications such as forward genetic screening, behavioral studies, worm mating, decontaminating worm stocks, and microinjection, mastering the art of worm picking is crucial for various experiments. In this blog, I will share valuable insights and tips based on my experience to enhance your proficiency in handling C. elegans.



Before delving into the intricate details of worm picking, it's essential to assemble the necessary materials. A well-equipped nematode researcher will typically require:

  1. Plate containing elegans to be picked.

  2. A worm pick (can be purchased on various platforms or made)

  3. Dissecting Brightfield Microscope

  4. Bunsen Burner or Ethanol Lamp

  5. Plate for elegans to be transferred to.

With the relevant materials assembled, you can proceed through the steps of C. elegans picking, along with essential tips and techniques (Figure 1)


Picking A Worm:


Step 1: Sterilizing the Worm Pick.

The initial step in the art of worm picking involves the careful preparation and sterilization of the worm pick. Whether you opt for a commercially available pick or a custom pick, the platinum wire used for picking requires sterilization. Platinum's unique properties, heating and cooling rapidly, make this step a brief yet crucial one. A few seconds of exposure to the flame ensures the removal of potential contaminants, safeguarding the integrity of subsequent experiments.


Step 2: Picking the Worm.

With a sterile worm pick in hand, the researcher is ready to commence the picking process. The number of worms one can pick depends on the width of the pick. To facilitate the picking process, a useful tip is to swipe the pick through a bacterial culture first. This serves as a "glue" that helps adhere the worms to the pick. A gentle touch is crucial during the picking maneuver to prevent unnecessary harm to the delicate C. elegans. Imagine it as a careful brushstroke, delicately lifting the worm. Once secured, transfer the worm promptly to avoid desiccation or the worms crawling up the wire.


Step 3: Placing the Worm Down

Having successfully picked up the desired worm, the next step is transferring it to the designated destination, whether another plate or a specific location based on the experimental requirements. A gentle swipe of the worm pick against the bacterial surface or a subtle touch facilitates the worm's release. It is important not to resort to poking holes through the plate, as this may result in the worms burrowing.


Step 4: Re-sterilize the Worm Pick.

Once the worms have been transferred, it is critical to re-sterilize the worm pick to avoid contamination of the pick, and to avoid cross-contaminating various worm strains should you be working with multiple. After the worm pick is sterilized many times, you may notice soot accumulate on the worm pick which should be wiped off.


Tips for Creating Your Own Worm Pick:
  1. Worm picks can also be created in the lab using 32-gauge platinum wire and a glass Pasteur pipette.1Taking all necessary safety precautions, cut a piece (approximately 1 inch) of the platinum wire and insert a small portion of it into the Pasteur pipette.1 Carefully melt the glass pipette gently around the wire to secure it. The end of the platinum wire can be modified to a preferred style that you find best – they can be flattened and shaped to fit so long as they are not too sharp and damage the worm.

  2. Alternatively, a more unconventional approach involves creating a worm pick by attaching an eyelash to a toothpick.2 While this might be particularly useful in specific behavior assays, thorough sterilization of the toothpick can be tricky.

In conclusion, the art of worm picking is a delicate art useful for several applications. As researchers navigate the world of nematodes, these tips and techniques serve as a compass, guiding them towards successful and meaningful experiments with the versatile C. elegans.



1. Stiernagle T. Maintenance of C. elegans. WormBook. Published online February 2006:1-11. doi:10.1895/wormbook.1.101.1

2. Queliconi BB, Kowaltowski AJ, Nehrke K. An anoxia-starvation model for ischemia/reperfusion in C. elegans. J Vis Exp. 2014;(85). doi:10.3791/51231