Worm genes take on bacterial foes

While fruit flies don’t have as sophisticated an immune system as mammals do, studies of these insects have provided great insight into the more basic aspects of how people ward off infectious microbes. Offering the first evidence that creatures as simple as worms also have an effective immune defense, scientists report in the July 23 Current Biology that the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans mounts a counterattack when infected by bacteria.

Gustavo V. Mallo of the University of the Mediterranean in Marseilles, France, and his colleagues found that infected worms boost the activity of many genes. Some of these genes encode proteins resembling ones with immune functions in more sophisticated animals.

A mutant strain of C. elegans that’s unable to activate several of the putative immunity genes also proved more likely than normal worms to die when the researchers infected it with a bacterium. The researchers suggest that further investigation into C. elegans will help unravel the workings of the human immune system and how it arose.

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