Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Bloodless Worm Sheds Light On Human Blood, Iron Deficiency

Date:
April 19, 2008
Source:
University of Maryland
Summary:
Using a lowly bloodless worm, researchers have discovered an important clue to how iron carried in human blood is absorbed and transported into the body. The finding could lead to developing new ways to reduce iron deficiency, the world's number one nutritional disorder.

A C. elegans worm expressing the Green Fluorescent Protein and a fluorescent heme molecule (red) in the intestine.
Credit: Jason Sinclair and Iqbal Hamza

Using a lowly bloodless worm, University of Maryland researchers have discovered an important clue to how iron carried in human blood is absorbed and transported into the body. The finding could lead to developing new ways to reduce iron deficiency, the world's number one nutritional disorder.

Related Articles


With C. elegans , a common microscopic worm that lives in dirt, Iqbal Hamza, assistant professor of animal and avian sciences, and his team identified previously unknown proteins that are key to transporting heme, the molecule that creates hemoglobin in blood and carries iron. It is a critical step in understanding how our bodies process iron. Their findings are published in the April 16 issue of Nature online.

"The structure of hemoglobin has been crystallized over and over," says Hamza, "but no one knows how the heme gets into the globin, or how humans absorb iron, which is mostly in the form of heme.

"To understand the underlying issues of nutritional and genetic causes of iron deficiency, we are looking at the molecules and mechanisms involved in heme absorption. Once you understand transport of heme, you can more effectively deliver it to better absorb iron in the human intestine."

Heme and Blood

Heme is a critical molecule for health in all eukaryotes, organisms whose cells are organized into complex structures enclosed in membranes. Species of eukaryotes range from humans to baker's yeast. Heme makes blood red and binds to oxygen and other gases we need to survive.

Heme is created in the mitochondria, then moves through pathways that connect other cells, where it is synthesized to form blood. Heme on its own, however, is toxic. "We wanted to find out how heme gets carried between and within cells," said Hamza.

A Bloodless Worm

Eight steps are required to generate heme, making it a difficult process to control in the study of heme transport pathways, as Hamza learned when he first studied the question in bacteria and mice.

So Hamza did the non-intuitive thing. He chose a test subject that doesn't make heme, but needs it to survive, that doesn't even have blood, but shares a number of genes with humans - the C. elegans roundworm, a simple nematode.

"We tried to understand how blood is formed in an animal that doesn't have blood, that doesn't turn red, but has globin," Hamza said.

C. elegans gets heme by eating bacteria in the soil where it lives. "C. elegans consumes heme and transports it into the intestine. So now you have a master valve to control how much heme the animal sees and digests via its food," Hamza explains.

C. elegans has several other benefits for studying heme transport. Hamza's team could control the amount of heme the worms were eating. With only one valve controlling the heme transport, the scientists knew exactly where heme was entering the worm's intestine, where, as in humans, it is absorbed.

And C. elegans is transparent, so that under the microscope researchers could see the movement of the heme ingested by the worm.

Genes and Iron Deficiency

The study revealed several findings that could lead to new treatment for iron deficiency. One was the discovery that genes are involved in heme transport. Hamza's group found that HRG-1 genes, which are common to humans and C. elegans , were important regulators of heme transport in the worm.

To test their findings in an animal that makes blood, Hamza's team removed the HRG-1 gene in zebrafish. The fish developed bone and brain defects, much like birth defects. The gene removal also resulted in a severe form of anemia usually caused by iron deficiencies.

When they substituted the zebrafish gene with the worm HRG-1 gene, the mutant fish returned to normal, indicating that the fish and worm genes are interchangeable, irrespective of the animal's ability to make blood.

They also found that too little or too much heme can kill C. elegans , a result that could help researchers find ways to treat people who suffer from iron deficiency caused by parasitic worms.

"More than two billion people are infected with parasites," says Hamza. "Hookworms eat a huge amount of hemoglobin and heme in their hosts. If we can simultaneously understand heme transport pathways in humans and worms, we can exploit heme transport genes to deliver drugs disguised as heme to selectively kill parasites but not harm the host."

Other researchers on the study were Abbhirami Rajagopal, Anita U. Rao, Caitlin Hall, Suji Uhm, University of Maryland ; Julio Amigo, Barry H. Paw, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston ; Meng Tian, Mark D. Fleming, Children's Hospital, Boston ; Sanjeev K. Upadhyay, M.K. Mathew, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Bangalore , India ; Michael Krause, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, NIH.

The research was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and Kanwal Rekhi Fellowships, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Undergraduate Science Education Program.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Maryland. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Maryland. "Bloodless Worm Sheds Light On Human Blood, Iron Deficiency." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 April 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080416140912.htm>.
University of Maryland. (2008, April 19). Bloodless Worm Sheds Light On Human Blood, Iron Deficiency. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080416140912.htm
University of Maryland. "Bloodless Worm Sheds Light On Human Blood, Iron Deficiency." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080416140912.htm (accessed December 20, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Health & Medicine News

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

The Best Tips to Curb Holiday Carbs

The Best Tips to Curb Holiday Carbs

Buzz60 (Dec. 19, 2014) It's hard to resist those delicious but fattening carbs we all crave during the winter months, but there are some ways to stay satisfied without consuming the extra calories. Vanessa Freeman (@VanessaFreeTV) has the details. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Sierra Leone Bikers Spread the Message to Fight Ebola

Sierra Leone Bikers Spread the Message to Fight Ebola

AFP (Dec. 19, 2014) More than 100 motorcyclists hit the road to spread awareness messages about Ebola. Nearly 7,000 people have now died from the virus, almost all of them in west Africa, according to the World Health Organization. Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Researchers Test Colombian Village With High Alzheimer's Rates

Researchers Test Colombian Village With High Alzheimer's Rates

AFP (Dec. 19, 2014) In Yarumal, a village in N. Colombia, Alzheimer's has ravaged a disproportionately large number of families. A genetic "curse" that may pave the way for research on how to treat the disease that claims a new victim every four seconds. Duration: 02:42 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Double-Amputee Becomes First To Move Two Prosthetic Arms With His Mind

Double-Amputee Becomes First To Move Two Prosthetic Arms With His Mind

Buzz60 (Dec. 19, 2014) A double-amputee makes history by becoming the first person to wear and operate two prosthetic arms using only his mind. Jen Markham has the story. Video provided by Buzz60
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


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

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