Sexy Worms

Some people would pay anything for a quickfix pill for their sex lives or to slow the inevitable aging process. Now, US scientists have found a new class of small molecule in the molecular biologist’s favorite nematode worm, Caenorhabditis elegans, a blend of which apparently not only attract mates but also slow the development of larvae for months.

The soil-dwelling nematode is used as a model organism for lots of human diseases and in aging research because despite the apparent differences between ourselves and the nematode, we share much of our underlying biology with the worm.

Writing in Nature, Frank Schroeder, of Cornell University, Jagan Srinivasan, of California Institute of Technology, and colleagues describe the new compounds, ascarosides, and reveal data that show how they extend lifespan in C. elegans as well as acting as sex pheromones for the wriggly critter. The work essentially ties together at the molecular level two superficially disparate life processes – sex and death.

So, are we likely to see a human version of the ascarosides for attracting a sex partner and warding off old age. Short answer is no. Although we share some of the molecular biology of this nematode, there are a few too many differences to make such a pill even remotely possible…at any price.

Srinivasan, J., Kaplan, F., Ajredini, R., Zachariah, C., Alborn, H.T., Teal, P.E., Malik, R.U., Edison, A.S., Sternberg, P.W., Schroeder, F.C. (2008). A blend of small molecules regulates both mating and development in Caenorhabditis elegans. Nature DOI: 10.1038/nature07168

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