How elegans Worm Shed Understanding to Human Aging

A new model was developed by researchers from UK-based Babraham Institute, together with experts from various fields, to understand the decline in metabolic activities during aging. Their key instrument: a worm.

Caenorhabditis elegans: A Curious Case

Because of its quick life span, a type of worm called C. elegans was perfect for the experiment. Lasting only for 2 to 3 weeks, its life span demonstrated key metabolic pathways like that of humans.

Since other studies have also used the worm, references and genetic materials were also available to supplement the study. With a consolidated knowledge on C. elegans, it became apparent that the focus of current studies was on the growth phase of the worm, rather than its aging phase.

A Life Span of Metabolic Activity

The group observed the mitochondrial functions of the worm throughout its normal life span. Understanding the mechanics within the mitochondria is critical in understanding aging as it is the source of metabolic activity. It is where nutrients are converted into energy for the cell. This conversion requires substances called metabolites. The amount of these metabolites was recorded throughout the lifespan of the worm. Another data set exposed the worms to variants that attempt to extend its life span and to improve its quality of life.

The study observed a significant number of metabolites varying over the course of the worm’s life span. Of these metabolites, 22 were already known to be age-associated. The group utilized a separate technique to classify another 5 metabolites as also associated with age. They then further classified this list between those that increased over time and those that decreased.

The study concluded that the metabolites directly affected activities essential to life extension. And to thanks to these worms, we are now a step away from understanding aging.