(Santa Barbara, Calif.) Humans have more in common with the lowly worm than previously thought, according to scientists reporting in the cover article of Molecular Cell, published today. The findings have important implications for medicine, including the study of birth defects, cancer, and tissue engineering.
"Our studies show that animals that are very distantly related show something strikingly in common that hadn't been expected," said Joel Rothman, associate professor of molecular biology at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Rothman's lab studies the nematode worm known as C. elegans, an important organism for biological research, which has also been recently embraced by the biotechnology industry to study the basis for disease processes. The nematode C. elegans is the most completely described animal on the planet, according to Rothman. "With this animal we can ask deep questions and get profound answers quickly and relatively cheaply," he said.
This new research shows that nature uses the same fundamental machinery to create vastly different creatures. "We found that a key regulator of early development is the same in worms and vertebrates -- animals like ourselves that possess an internal skeleton, said Rothman. And because the machinery is the same, it may be possible to learn about the causes of many human birth defects by examining how worms develop and how that development can go awry."
Post-doctoral researcher Morris Maduro and Rothman found that there is a common regulator gene that controls the formation of many of the internal organs in both nematodes and vertebrates. This gene tells early cells what to become, for example, an intestine or a muscle cell.
Early on, the embryos of most animals become divided up into three different layers -- ectoderm, mesoderm, and endoderm. As vertebrate embryos mature or develop, the mesoderm produces heart, blood and muscles, while the endoderm becomes the organs o
Contact: Gail Brown
University of California, Santa Barbara - Engineering