Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Worms take the sniff test

Buttery popcorn or fresh green vegetables? Your answer tells a lot about you.

Now, researchers say that the way that thousands of tiny worms have answered that question likely reveals a lot about you and your brain, too.

In the experiment at the University of Rochester Medical Center, worms that are hermaphrodites (with characteristics of both females and males) went for the buttery smell, while the males the other of the two sexes in these worms opted for the scent of fresh vegetables. But when scientists tricked a few nerve cells in hermaphrodites into sensing that they were in a male worm, suddenly they too preferred the smell of fresh vegetables.

While the olfactory likes and dislikes of the tiny roundworm known as C. elegans is the stuff of distinctive cocktail conversation, trivia is the furthest thing on the minds of Rochester researchers who did the study, which is being reported in the Nov. 6 issue of Current Biology.

Geneticist Douglas Portman, Ph.D., and graduate student KyungHwa Lee ultimately hope to understand gender differences in diseases like autism, depression, and attention-deficit disorder. A number of more boys than girls are diagnosed with ADD and autism, and a number of more girls than boys are diagnosed with depression. While proposed explanations abound, few researchers debate the notion that the brains of the sexes are in some ways fundamentally different...

No comments: