Breakthrough in worm research has implications for human disease studies

Dec 17, 2010

It's just a worm, a tiny soil-dwelling nematode worm – but the implications are big for biomedicine and circadian biology as shown in a recent study authored by University of Nevada, Reno researcher Alexander van der Linden. The article on the circadian clock of the Caenorhabditis elegans worm was published in the peer-reviewed, open-access journal, PLoS Biology.

"Circadian rhythms are important in all organisms because they regulate biological functions such as food intake, temperature, metabolic rate and sleep," van der Linden said. "The discovery of clock-controlled genes in C. elegans should lead to an expanded research role in , and give a better understanding of the mammalian .

For more than two decades, researchers have wondered whether C. elegans, one of the foremost research model organisms, contains a circadian clock. Circadian rhythmic behaviors described previously in C. elegans are variable and hard to quantify, and no genes were known to exhibit gene expression oscillations with 24-hour cycles as shown in many other animals.

Now, a team of researchers led by professors of biology Piali Sengupta and Michael Rosbash at Brandeis University, Waltham, and lead author van der Linden, who is a former postdoctoral fellow in the Sengupta Lab and now assistant professor in the College of Science at the University of Nevada, Reno, has uncovered genes in C. elegans under clock control from both light and temperature.

"C. elegans offers several advantages to study the function of human disease genes through their corresponding worm ," he said. "We now not only have a new model to study the function of this important biological clock, but we can also study how the clock evolved over time, since nematodes and humans diverged about 600 to 1,200 million years ago."

Almost every organism on earth exhibits circadian rhythms – periodic cycles of behavior or gene expression that repeat roughly every 24 hours. These rhythms are generated by a circadian clock – an internal time-keeping mechanism – which can be entrained and synchronized by environmental signals such as temperature or light/dark cycles.

"Given its small and well-mapped nervous system, combined with a wealth of available genetic and behavioral tools, C. elegans is a viable research organism in the circadian field," van der Linden said. "The next critical step will be to determine how these worm molecular rhythms relate to circdian behavioral rhythms."

Explore further: Micro fingers for arranging single cells

Related Stories

Chronic drinking can disrupt circadian rhythms

Aug 24, 2010

Circadian rhythmicity is regulated by circadian clock genes, and animal studies have shown that chronic drinking can alter expressions in these genes. A new study has found that significantly lower levels of messenger ribonucleic ...

Recommended for you

Micro fingers for arranging single cells

Apr 24, 2015

Functional analysis of a cell, which is the fundamental unit of life, is important for gaining new insights into medical and pharmaceutical fields. For efficiently studying cell functions, it is essential ...

Detailed structure of human ribosome revealed

Apr 24, 2015

A team at the Institut de Génétique et de Biologie Moléculaire et Cellulaire (IGBMC - CNRS/Université de Strasbourg/Inserm) has evidenced, at the atomic scale, the three-dimensional structure of the complete ...

How to kill a protein

Apr 24, 2015

For decades scientists have been looking closely at how our cells make proteins. But the inverse is equally important: how cells kill them.

How RNA machinery navigates our genomic obstacle course

Apr 24, 2015

Once upon a time, scientists thought RNA polymerase—the molecule that kicks off protein synthesis by transcribing DNA into RNA—worked like a wind-up toy: Set it down at a start site in our DNA and it ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.