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Friday, April 24, 2009

S.F. Scientists Find Worms Live Fast, Die Young at High Temperatures -- Aren't You Glad the Heat Wave's Done?

Posted By on Fri, Apr 24, 2009 at 5:30 AM

No, humans do not age more rapidly and die younger at high temperatures -- one glance around the boardwalk at Miami Beach could tell you that. But U.C. San Francisco scientists recently determined that cold-blooded, C. elegans worms eat, move, digest, mature, age -- and die -- faster at 77 degrees Fahrenheit than 68 degrees.

The study -- which you'll find sitting on your doorstep considering you subscribe to Current Biology magazine -- postulates that the one-millimeter worm's internal mechanisms are far more complicated than anyone had previously thought. While people (and dogs and gerbils) maintain a constant internal temperature, cold-blooded creatures do not. The worms do, however, release steroid hormones when the heat is cranked up, which helps to somewhat regulate life functions. When scientists did away with these steroids, the worms perished rapidly.

What does it all mean? Perhaps the worm's heat-regulation system offers a glimpse at the early link between cold-blooded and warm-blooded creatures billions of years ago. Or, as Sigmund Freud may have said, sometimes a

banana is just a banana. Perhaps, this time, it's just enough to know

that C. elegans' heat-sensing neurons stimulate the daf-9 gene -- which

secretes a steroid hormone that extends the worm's lifespan. Sometimes

the pursuit of knowledge is an end in and of itself.

"These findings probably won't result in a new cure for cancer or

Alzheimer's," said the study's senior researcher, UCSF Professor Cynthia Kenyon. "But they may force us to rewrite the section

on cold-blooded animals in high school biology textbooks."

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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