Rhythm Gene Discovered
University of Utah biologists found a gene that controls rhythmic events in a worm's life: swallowing food, laying eggs and pooping. If the gene is disabled, the worms can't swallow, so they die. If the gene is partly restored so the worms can swallow, they have trouble reproducing and get constipated. "We have found a gene that is important for the control of fundamental rhythms in nematode worms," says biology professor and physician Andres Villu Maricq, a member of the Brain Institute at the University of Utah. "The same gene products that control the fundamental processes of life in mammals also are found in the worm, so our study suggests this gene and related genes may have critical roles in controlling rhythmic behaviors in humans and other animals." Discovery of the gene is reported in the Oct. 7, 2005, issue of the journal Cell. The study deals with seconds- to hours-long ultradian rhythms that control such body functions as heart rate, breathing, swallowing and contraction of the intestines. Much less is known about ultradian rhythms than about circadian rhythms, which regulate the 24-hour cycle of sleeping, waking and activity, Maricq says.