Author: Marta Maria Cecchetto
Yes, you read it correctly. Nematodes. But what is a nematode?
They are roundworms inhabiting a broad range of environments. We could say that Earth is the Planet of the Nematodes; In the 1914 edition of the Yearbook of the United State Department of Agriculture, N.A Cobb wrote on their abundance:
“If all the matter in the universe except the nematodes were swept away, our world would still be dimly recognizable, and if, as disembodied spirits, we could then investigate it, we should find its mountains, hills, vales, rivers, lakes and oceans represented by a thin film of nematodes. The location of towns would be decipherable, since for every massing of human beings there would be a corresponding massing of certain nematodes. Trees would still stand in ghostly rows representing our streets and highways. The location of the various plants and animals would still be decipherable, and, had we sufficient knowledge, in many cases even their species could be determined by an examination of their erstwhile nematode parasites.”
Second question, why going to Ghent to study them? The university of Ghent, founded in 1817 by King William I of the Netherlands, is one of the biggest Flemish universities. It is considered a pluralist university which means that is not connected to any particular religion or political ideology to the point where also its motto, Inter Utrumque(in between both extremes) and its coat of arms suggest that the acquisition of wisdom and science are only possible in an atmosphere of peace and support by the monarchy and the fatherland.
And in this university, you will find worldwide experts on the study of nematodes, found from the deepest part of the ocean to the highest mountain on land.
During my week there, from the 9thto the 16thof December 2018, the university of Ghent ran a course on marine nematodes and I applied to it so I could have an idea on how to identify them. During my time there, I had the chance to explore the city and surrounding areas. We went on a field trip to collect samples to practice on.
Nematodes are really fascinating organisms. They have adapted to live in the most various and extreme environments, however, identifying them is a big challenge.
When looking down a microscope and looking for the different characteristics that will help you to identify the genus or the family they belong to, you wonder if what you are looking at is really the feature or if it is your imagination having fun with you.
Nematodes are usually measured in micrometres, which is the same of saying one millionth of a metre, 1×10-6, or one thousandth of a millimetre, 0.001 mm (about 0.000039).
Yes, they are very small!
If during the day I spent my time looking at nematodes, during the evenings I was walking around to enjoy the beautiful sights of the city. Christmas market, hot chocolates, beers and a lot of food. Ghent is very famous for its fries or “fritures” as they call them.
The city is divided by different canals which contribute to the romantic Flemish atmosphere. The reflection of street lights playing with the image of churches and old guild houses on the canals create a beautiful and magical feeling which will accompany you during your evening walks.
Could you guess how many nematodes you can find in their waters?
Something to think about next time you visit the city!