- Worm mothers secrete a milk-like fluid through their vulva to feed their babies
- But researchers have found that the insects destroy themselves in the process.
- Worm studies used to understand how organisms age and may help reverse this
- Research by the Institute of Healthy Aging, University College London
According to researchers, worm mothers have been found to secrete a milk-like fluid through their vulva to feed their babies – but this comes at a cost as they destroy themselves in the process.
Experts from University College London said the selfless and sacrificial act helps to explain many mysteries about the biology of aging in the nematode worm.
Researchers said it has been widely studied to understand how organisms age, and the discovery could help find the key to slowing human aging.
Selfless: Worm mothers secrete a milk-like fluid through their vulva to feed their babies, but destroy themselves in the process, a study has found. nematode worm painted
What are Nematodes?
Nematodes are a type of microscopic worm, and there are over 15,000 known species of them.
Thousands of individual nematodes can be found in a handful of garden soil.
Some species can lay as many as 27 million eggs at a time and can lay more than 200,000 of them in a single day.
Their body is long and narrow, resembling a short thread – and this is the origin of the group’s name.
The word ‘nematode’ comes from the Greek word ‘nema’ which means ‘thread’.
The epidermis (skin) of nematodes is not composed of cells as in other animals, but rather is a mass of cellular material and nuclei without individual membranes.
This epidermis secretes a thick outer cuticle that is both tough and flexible.
The cuticle is the closest thing to a nematode’s skeleton, and is used as a support and leverage point for movement.
Underneath the cuticle are long muscles. All of these muscles align longitudinally with the inside of the body, so the nematode can only turn its body from side to side, not crawl or lift itself, so the free-swimming nematode appears as if it is aiming. is beating.
Source: University of California Museum of Paleontology
Lead author Professor David James, from UCL’s Institute of Healthy Aging, said: ‘We have now elucidated a unique self-destructive process observed in nematode worms.
‘It is a form of primitive lactation, shown to be done by only a few other invertebrates, and a form of reproductive suicide, as worm mothers sacrifice themselves to support the next generation.’
Most C. elegans nematodes, a type of microscopic worm, have both male and female reproductive organs, so mothers reproduce by fertilizing themselves with a limited stock of sperm.
When these are gone, within days of sexual maturity, reproduction stops.
At this point, transparent roundworms up to one millimeter long behave in a way that previously astonished scientists.
They produce yolk-rich fluid that accumulates in large pools inside their bodies and in the process destructively consumes the internal organs.
Insects deposit more than their body weight even in unfertilized eggs.
It was thought that these changes represented some sort of geriatric disease stage, but now researchers know differently.
Fellow author Dr Carina Kern said: ‘Once we realized that post-breeding insects were making milk, a lot of things suddenly made sense.
‘Insects are destroying themselves in the process of transferring nutrients to their offspring.
‘And all those fertilized eggs are filled with milk, so they’re acting like milk bottles to help feed the baby worms in transport of the milk.’
The researchers found that the milk-like fluid seemed to benefit young worms because they found evidence that larvae that ingested it grew more quickly.
Dr Kern said: ‘The existence of worm milk suggests a new way that C. elegans maximizes their evolutionary fitness: When they can no longer reproduce because they have run out of sperm, they molt their own tissues to transfer resources. His progeny.’
The study could also have far-reaching implications for trying to slow the human aging process.
This type of self-destructive and life-shortening breeding effort is typical of organisms such as Pacific salmon that exhibit suicidal reproduction.
This study shows that C. elegans can be similarly limited, so finding out which genes control the worm’s lifespan opens up the possibility of regulating the self-destructive process.
Professor James said, ‘C. elegans is that gene manipulation can extend life span in a big way – up to 10 times.’
‘This suggests that by understanding how this happens, the key to slowing down human aging may be found, which is really exciting.
This picture shows how insects secrete a milk-like fluid through their vulva to feed on their lambs
The worms produce a yolk-rich fluid that accumulates in large pools inside their bodies and destructively consumes the internal organs in the process.
‘But if c. elegans is due to the suppression of suicidal reproduction, just like in salmon, the possibility of applying our knowledge of worm aging to dramatically extend human lifespan suddenly seems distant.’
In an article accompanying their study, the authors also present evidence that suicidal reproduction evolved from more general mechanisms of aging, and that aging-related disease caused C. elegans, animals and humans are similar.
‘Finally, what is important is to understand the principles that govern the aging process of C. elegans and to explain the causes of age-related disease in general. We don’t understand this for any organism yet,’ Professor James said.
‘But for C. elegans we’re getting there, and the discovery of worm milk takes us one step closer.’
A new study has been done…