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Thursday, 24 October, 2002, 14:19 GMT 15:19 UK
Waistline secrets revealed by worms
Nematode worms
Worms get fat too...
Worms which appear to suffer from a form of "middle-aged spread" could help scientists tackle the same condition in humans.

The tiny nematode worms seem to lose muscle and strength as they age.

And because their life cycle can be measured in days rather than decades, it will help scientists work out more quickly what is to blame for this.

Then, say the experts, researchers can see if this is happening in humans, and devise ways of preventing it.

Nematode worms - which have only 959 cells as an adult - are a favourite organism for scientists because although they are a very simple creature, they share many key biological mechanisms with humans.

Aging worms

In this case, the worm Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) was found by scientists at Rutgers University in New Jersey, US, to losing its muscle mass and strength as it aged, without any accompanying loss in nervous system function.

The muscular deterioration is similar to that found in older people suffering from sarcopenia.

Other research has already found many genes in the worm which appear to extend its life, and there are hopes that this might eventually offer a clue to increasing human longevity.

Dr Monica Driscoll, one of the researchers, said: "Once you have figured out what a key molecule is doing in the worm, you can look for it in humans and expect the same things to happen.

"All the basic machinery is there, and the way things work in the worm is the way things work in people, though we are bit more complicated with a few more bells and whistles."

She said: "You don't necessarily need to fix everything, but we can now imaging making a few key adjustments that can actually make us live with a more youthful muscle profile for longer."

More work needed

The research was published in the journal Nature, and Professor Thomas Kirkwood, from the Institute for Ageing and Health at the University of Newcastle said that the work was a "milestone".

However, he said: "C. elegans can never be a model for the important contributions to human ageing that come from impaired cell proliferation in the many mammalian organs and tissues that maintain themselves by cell renewal.

"The adult worm has no dividing cells apart from those in its gonads."

See also:

14 Oct 02 | Science/Nature
07 Oct 02 | Health
08 May 02 | Science/Nature
04 Sep 01 | Health
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