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Wayne State researcher says worm's biological processes give clues to environmental effects on humans

July 4, 2013

A Wayne State University researcher is using a tiny worm to better understand how human physiology and behavior are affected by the environment. In studying the worm C. elegans, Joy Alcedo, assistant professor of biological sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, recently found that the animals' sensory neurons affect lifespan through recognition of food types, which include different bacteria. Her team also found that those neurons act with a neuropeptide receptor similar to one existing in humans. Neuropeptides are small proteins released from neurons that regulate important biological processes by activating receptor proteins and their signaling cascades. Expressed in both the sensory system and the reproductive system, they found that this particular neuropeptide receptor influences the C. elegans' lifespan in a manner dependent on the outer structure of the worm's live E. coli food source. "Environmental cues, like the type of food source, level of food intake or various forms of stress, have been shown to influence lifespan," Alcedo said. "These different cues presumably modulate the activities of different signaling pathways that have previously been shown to affect longevity."