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Rhythm gene discovered

University of Utah biologists found a gene that controls rhythmic events in a worm's life: swallowing food, laying eggs and pooping.

If the gene is disabled, the worms can't swallow, so they die. If the gene is partly restored so the worms can swallow, they have trouble reproducing and get constipated.

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

Discovery of the gene is reported in the Oct. 7, 2005, issue of the journal Cell. The study deals with seconds- to hours-long ultradian rhythms that control such body functions as heart rate, breathing, swallowing and contraction of the intestines. Much less is known about ultradian rhythms than about circadian rhythms, which regulate the 24-hour cycle of sleeping, waking and activity, Maricq says.

The gene that controls ultradian rhythms in worms is related to other genes that, when mutated, cause uncontrolled growth of mammalian cells a hallmark of cancer. By learning how the gene works, researchers may learn how to interfere with it a possible way to find new cancer drugs

Maricq and colleagues studied Caenorhabditis elegans, a millimeter-long (one 25th of an inch) nematode worm that is found in soil, eats bacteria and frequently is used by geneticists. The researchers discovered a worm gene they named vav-1 which is related to three similar human genes. The study showed that the gene controlled the rhythmic contractions of smooth muscle in three parts of the worm's body by regularly raising and lowering calcium levels in the muscle cells:
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6-Oct-2005


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