Wrigglers Yield Clues to Human Body Rhythms

A worm gene could hold the key to important mammalian functions

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THURSDAY, Oct. 6, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists are literally worming into the secrets of human body rhythms.

Researchers at University of Utah say they've identified a gene that controls rhythmic events in nematode worms, such as when they swallow food, lay eggs and eliminate waste.

If the vav-1 gene was disabled, the worms became unable to swallow and died. When the gene was partly restored so that the worms could swallow, they still had trouble reproducing and also suffered the nematode equivalent of constipation, the study authors found.

The research is in worms but also has implications for humans, the scientists say.

"We have found a gene that is important for the control of fundamental rhythms in nematode worms. The same gene products that control the fundamental processes of life in mammals also are found in worms, so our study suggests this gene and related genes may have critical roles in controlling rhythmic behaviors in humans and other animals," Andres Villu Maricq, a biology professor and physician and member of the Brain Institute of the University of Utah, explained in a prepared statement.

The vav-1 gene in the nematode worms is related to three similar human genes, he noted.

It's not known whether vav genes control human swallowing, ovulation or defecation, "but it will be an obvious avenue for further research. Almost all of our behaviors are rhythmic: breathing, swallowing, heartbeats and brain activity," Maricq said.

The findings appear in the Oct. 7 issue of Cell.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has information about swallowing problems.

SOURCE: University of Utah, news release, Oct. 6, 2005


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