Friday, December 12, 2003

Now We Know Why the Worm's a slo-1; It's Smashed

Researchers found a gene responsible for drunkenness in worms after plying thousands of the tiny creatures with booze, a discovery that could boost the fight against alcoholism.
The experiment was conducted by University of California, San Francisco researchers and was to be published Friday in the science journal Cell.

Because it is believed that alcohol affects all animals similarly, humans, like worms, may also possess a single gene responsible for drunkenness.

"Our end goal is to find a way to cure alcoholism and drug abuse," Dr. Steven McIntire said. "We hope to develop effective therapeutics to improve the ability of people to stop drinking."

After six years of work on the project, McIntire can now spot a soused worm about as well as a highway patrol trooper can spot a drunken driver.
Well, if the right-wing Republicans decide to squelch this research by cutting funding (after all, it's a person's choice to be an alcoholic - oops getting a little too close for comfort with this one, perhaps), at least he can have a fall-back position with the CHP.

The drunken worms moved slower and more awkwardly than sober ones, and laid fewer eggs. Teetotaler worms form a neat S shape to power propulsion while the bodies of drunken worms were straighter and less active.

Researchers found that the sober worms had the same mutated gene that appears to make them immune to alcohol's intoxicating effects.

The natural job of the gene they found is to help slow brain transmissions. Alcohol increases the gene's activity, which slows down brain activity even more. But if the gene is disabled, as it was in the mutant worms, the brain never gets the chance to slow down.
Although not stated in this article, the research was performed on a tiny (almost microscopic), cute (as nematodes go) worm, C. elegans. The "C" stands for Caenorhabditis but that doesn't sound as nice as 'see-L-agains' so we'll stick with that. The affected gene is slo-1 (hence the posting title) and encodes a channel protein, equivalent to one found in the human brain, known as the BK channel. The 'B' in this case is for 'Big' and the 'K' for 'Potassium' (check your periodic table, I know you have it handy). And where was this research performed you might UCSF's Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center, of course. If you're interested, a more complete, yet layperson-directed article appears in UCSF Today, here.


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