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Worm seeks worm: Caltech researchers find chemical cues driving aggregation in nematodes
Date:1/12/2012

PASADENA, Calif. Scientists have long seen evidence of social behavior among many species of animals, both on the earth and in the sea. Dolphins frolic together, lions live in packs, and hornets construct nests that can house a large number of the insects. And, right under our feet, it appears that nematodesalso known as roundwormsare having their own little gatherings in the soil. Until recently, it was unknown how the worms communicate to one another when it's time to come together. Now, however, researchers from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and the Boyce Thompson Institute at Cornell University have identified, for the first time, the chemical signals that promote aggregation.

"We now have an expanded view of a very fundamental type of communication, which is recognizing other members of the same species and getting together with them," says Jagan Srinivasan, a senior research fellow in biology at Caltech and lead author of the study detailing this process, which was published in the January issue of PLoS Biology.

The researchers looked at the lab-friendly Caenorhabditis elegans worma relatively safe version of the phylum, whose parasitic cousins include hookworms, whipworms, and trichinas, which cause trichinosisto gather data.

According to Paul Sternberg, Thomas Hunt Morgan Professor of Biology at Caltech and a corresponding author on the paper, nearly 25 percent of the world's human population is infected with some type of parasitic nematode; animals and plants can fall prey to the nasty worms, too. Since nematode parasites live inside a host and attack it internally, knowing how the worms communicate via chemicals could be very important to the fields of biomedicine and agriculture.

"One of the ways to eradicate them would be to have some sort of a chemical that can attract them in order to kill them more efficiently," explains Srinivasan.

Sternberg and Srinivasan are n
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Contact: Deborah Williams-Hedges
debwms@caltech.edu
626-395-3227
California Institute of Technology
Source:Eurekalert  

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