Worm Reveals How Our Bodies Work

November 3, 2021

Have you heard of  aenorhabditis elegans ? He is an exceptional being, a superstar in laboratories, who has been indispensable to a myriad of discoveries and has contributed to the success of six Nobel laureates. Its name is a mixture of Greek – caeno , which means new, recent, and  rhabditis , like a cane – and Latin – elegans  which means elegant-  , but for short it is called  C. elegans .

Caenorhabditis elegans is a tiny soil worm that has also lived within the laboratory walls for more than 40 years. In recent decades, it has achieved the prestige of more traditional organisms, such as the vinegar fly or the mouse. It has been used to study developmental genetics and the nervous system. Lately, he is also making contributions to the knowledge of the causes of aging, cell death and the structure of the genome.

The sequence of its genome as the first multicellular organism was published in 1998 and although at that time it had some gaps, today it is considered complete. With about 20,000 genes, the distance that separates this worm from the human being (with about 30,000) seems to be shortening.

Can a short-lived worm hold the keys to eternal youth?

In its natural environment, this tiny worm lives in the space between grains of earth, and it was in the soil of Algeria that the French zoologist Émile Maupas found it, the first to isolate it, describe it and choose it as his reference species, in 1900. .

Several scientists followed in his footsteps, thanks to South African biologist Sydney Brenner’s search for a new animal model that could help him explore the mysteries of human development and behavior, “We needed an organism with which he could study genetics properly,” Brenner recalled.

” Sydney Brenner is a god in the worm community  for choosing this model organism,” says Gordon Lithgow, vice president of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in Novato, California.

‘What he really did was make a very good decision that allows you to study really complex biology in a simple system. And that was the real genius. This is basic biology, to be sure, but it is surprising how that basic biology has now translated into humans and the understanding of disease. ”

“The big advantage is the fact that it is transparent. You can see through their skin! Lithgow exclaims. “You can actually see cells and biological processes going on, just by looking through a microscope.”

“The genius of Sydney Brenner was to realize that while we have many hundreds of billions of cells in our brain, the worm has only 302 neurons, and you can see them through its transparent skin and study them.”

Why is it so ideal?

  • The nematode worm  C. elegans  is much simpler than humans – it has no bones, heart, or circulatory system, for example – but it shares many genes and molecular pathways with us.
  • In addition, many of the molecular signals that control its development are also found in more complex organisms, such as humans.
  • Many of the genes in the C. elegans genome   have functional equivalents in humans, making it an extremely useful model for exploring human disease.
  • Forms of  C. elegans  in which specific genes are altered can be produced very easily to closely study gene function.
  • These mutants provide models for many human diseases, including neurological disorders, congenital heart disease, and kidney disease.
  • They can be screened with thousands of potential drugs for major diseases.

More life

In 1988, scientists working with mutant worms in the US accidentally discovered a mutation in a single gene that increased the lifespan of  C. elegans by as  much as 65%.

Five years later, the worm made headlines when another single-gene mutant was found that  could extend its life by up to ten times . What’s more, the worms stayed fit and healthy until the very end.

“We thought that the shelf life was like a fixed quantity, but what the worm showed us was that  the shelf life  is plastic , that it could actually be altered in a dimension ten times larger… It’s amazing!”

“We believe that the mechanisms that we are studying in the worm are the drivers, even the causes, of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, cancer, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, Parkinson’s, etc.

From earth to heaven

And that’s not all: the little worm has been used to test the limits of biology in the most extreme environments. ” C. elegans  has been in space, ” declares Lithgow.

‘It was part of one of the biological experiments that were initially carried out on a space shuttle. What’s more: it was possibly the first terrestrial organism to reproduce in space. They are hermaphrodites, so they self-fertilize, and those worms sent into space were able to reproduce, which was very exciting.

” C. elegans have made one contribution after another to our knowledge,” says Waterston, and everything seems to indicate that they will continue to do so.

Today they are also used to test all kinds of drugs, including those that scientists hope can slow and improve aging processes.

Dr. Loony Davis5
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Born and raised in Brussels in an English family, I have always lived in a multicultural environment. After several work experiences in marketing and communication, I came to Smart Water Magazine, which I describe as the most exciting challenge of my career.
I am a person with great restlessness and curiosity to learn, discover what I do not know, as well as reinvent myself daily, someone who is curious about life and wants to know. I enjoy sharing knowledge.
This is my personal project but I also collaborate in other blogs, it is the case, the most important web on water currently exists in the US, if you are interested you can read my articles here.

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