Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Scientists Study Roundworms For Behavior Patterns

Date:
March 18, 2003
Source:
Texas A&M University
Summary:
Inside a drawer in Luis Rene Garcia's biology lab, tens of thousands of roundworms are bumping into one another, slithering together and breeding. For the tiny worms, known to science as C. elegans, it's all just another day on a laboratory petri dish. But somewhere in the writhing masses, Dr. Garcia suspects, lie clues to a mystery with large implications: Is some behavior hereditary?

COLLEGE STATION, March 17, 2003 – Inside a drawer in Luis Rene Garcia's biology lab, tens of thousands of roundworms are bumping into one another, slithering together and breeding. For the tiny worms, known to science as C. elegans, it's all just another day on a laboratory petri dish. But somewhere in the writhing masses, Dr. Garcia suspects, lie clues to a mystery with large implications: Is some behavior hereditary?

Garcia, an assistant professor of biology at Texas A&M University, is an expert in the sexual habits of C. elegans and the genes that apparently control the behaviors. Although the premise that heredity influences human behavior is controversial, it is more generally accepted in animals, Garcia says, especially when it involves base behaviors such as mating.

He straddles the familiar nature-nurture debate, theorizing that genes set basic tendencies and the environment shapes the behaviors further. To begin testing his hypothesis, Garcia is deconstructing some of the most elemental of all behaviors in one of the world's simplest organisms.

A tiny nematode that lives in dirt and grazes on bacteria, C. elegans is a popular laboratory subject because a scientist can store thousands in a sample dish the size of a hockey puck, easily supplying the numbers necessary for statistically significant experiments. About 1 millimeter long and conveniently transparent, the worm arrives microscope-ready, and even though it has fewer than 400 neurons (compared with hundreds of billions in the human brain) it has a large repertoire of behaviors for a scientist to observe.

Garcia fishes C. elegans from his petri dishes, separates out the males, and alters their genes with mutagenic chemicals. By mutating them, he has discovered that he can short-circuit aspects of their mating behavior. Normally, the little wrigglers do not display aspects of mating behavior until they bump into something they recognize as a mate. But the mutant males that Garcia isolated don't wait for an encounter.

They extend their sex organs spontaneously, trying to mate with a non-existent partner. Such mating gaffes, highly unusual in worms of conventional upbringing, demonstrate an apparent genetic link to the control of behavior, Garcia says.

"Most behaviors are executed in a proper environmental context," he says, suggesting that the genes he disrupted regulate when a behavior should be performed. So far, Garcia has identified four genes that dictate when a C. elegans male should extend its sex organ. Now he is studying the DNA that encodes the genes in hopes of coming to an understanding of how the genes work together to produce the behaviors.

Garcia makes clear that his prime interest is learning how genes influence behavior. But the work has many potential implications – maybe even for medical researchers working to understand Long QT Syndrome, a heart disorder that kills more than 4,000 children and young adults a year.

Garcia has discovered a connection to the roundworm: One of the four C. elegans genes he has identified encodes a protein that is about 66 percent identical to a human protein involved in regulating heart rhythms. Genetic mutations in the human gene can predispose victims of Long QT Syndrome to the spontaneous heart arrhythmias that can kill them without warning. Because the structure of the worm gene is similar to the gene involved in human victims, discovering what mechanism makes the neurons and muscles in the male C. elegans misfire may also explain how the heart misfires in people, Garcia suggested.

Science has far to go, Garcia cautions, before anyone can cure a lethal disease or untangle a thicket as dense as the nature-nurture debate, but some of the answers may be as close as his laboratory drawer.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Texas A&M University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Texas A&M University. "Scientists Study Roundworms For Behavior Patterns." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 March 2003. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/03/030318072843.htm>.
Texas A&M University. (2003, March 18). Scientists Study Roundworms For Behavior Patterns. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/03/030318072843.htm
Texas A&M University. "Scientists Study Roundworms For Behavior Patterns." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/03/030318072843.htm (accessed October 1, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Attacking Superbugs

Attacking Superbugs

Ivanhoe (Oct. 1, 2014) — Two weapons hospitals can use to attack superbugs. Scientists in Ireland created a new gel resistant to superbugs, and a robot that can disinfect a room in minutes. Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com
Cultural Learning In Wild Chimps Observed For The First Time

Cultural Learning In Wild Chimps Observed For The First Time

Newsy (Oct. 1, 2014) — Cultural transmission — the passing of knowledge from one animal to another — has been caught on camera with chimps teaching other chimps. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Earth Has Lost Half Its Vertebrate Wildlife Since 1970: WWF

Earth Has Lost Half Its Vertebrate Wildlife Since 1970: WWF

Newsy (Sep. 30, 2014) — A new study published by the World Wide Fund for Nature found that more than half of the world's wildlife population has declined since 1970. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Annual Dog Surfing Competition Draws California Crowds

Annual Dog Surfing Competition Draws California Crowds

AFP (Sep. 30, 2014) — The best canine surfers gathered for Huntington Beach's annual dog surfing competition, "Surf City, Surf Dog." Duration: 01:15 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins