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New control over worm rhythms

Newly discovered gene controls swallowing, ovulation, and defecation

Melissa Lee Phillips(mlp@nasw.org)

A previously unrecognized Caenorhabditis elegans gene is vital for rhythmic muscle movements, according to a study published in last week's Cell. When the gene vav-1 is disabled, nematodes cannot swallow, ovulate, or defecate normally.

"It seems, at least in the worm, that vav has a key regulatory function in controlling biological rhythms," said senior author Andres Villu Maricq of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

Still, Villu Maricq and his colleagues note that many other animals have vav genes whose function may be conserved.

Previous work has shown that oscillations in intracellular calcium trigger C. elegans muscle contractions necessary for peristalsis, gonadal contractions, and defecation. Studies in mammalian immune cells have also suggested that members of the Vav protein family may control intracellular calcium signaling.

Maricq and his colleagues identified an open reading frame in the C. elegans genome that encodes a protein containing all the characteristic...

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