Skin of microscopic worm might be the solution for better health and longevity. Researchers at Washington State University’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine published in Science Advances that a transparent nematode, normally found in soil, called Caenorhabditis elegans, can help human beings live a healthier and longer life. They found out that the skin-like exterior barrier of the worm’s cuticle can be controlled by the nervous system in cases of bacterial infections.
Although C. elegans is normally used as a model organism in most biological research due to its relatively simple structure, a number of genetic similarities of this organism are linked to more complex organisms, including human beings. This is an implication that the findings of the study could have the same benefit on human health.
According to one of the authors of the paper, Assistant Professor Jingru Sun, their study challenges the usual view about the response of infection to a physical barrier such as a human’s skin or a worm’s cuticle and also the innate defense of the body against a pathogen. The researchers revealed that the nematode has the capacity to change its cuticle structure in times of infection, and the nervous system controls the defense response of the body.
The researchers utilized technologies, including CRISPR gene editing and gene silencing, to portray that collagens are regulated by a G-protein-coupled receptor together with NPR-8.
It was further shown that if NPR-8 receptor is removed from nematodes, they have longer survival periods, especially with exposure to pathogens causing salmonella, pneumonia, and staph infections. On the other hand, the nematode’s cuticle remains smooth despite the response to the pathogens.
Nematodes need to have a healthy cuticle that protects them from external insults. Furthermore, wicked proteins are being produced by most pathogens, which are usually the cause of the destruction of the barrier, thereby resulting in infection. The study showed that the attacks could be detected by the nervous system, and it responds to the threat by strengthening or remodeling the protective structure.
Although collagens are considered as the most abundant proteins in mammals, aging can cause them to decline. On the other hand, a decrease in collagen levels in human beings is linked to more health-related problems, including wrinkles. Nematodes have only one cuticle, while human beings have many; in fact, it can be found on every organ. It can be harmful if the cuticle is too loose or too stiff.
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The study is an indication that collagens are very crucial, especially in its role of defending against pathogenic infections. Researchers concluded that if collagens are regulated, they might contribute to longevity. They further aim to understand the response mechanisms in their next study.