Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Colour of Death
16 August 2013

Colour of Death

For these little nematode worms death is a colourful, rather than sweet, release. Scientists have discovered that the worms produce a burst of bright blue fluorescent dye as they die, released from special granules in their gut. The worm in these images is very much alive in the top two panels, but dead in the bottom two. And it doesn't matter how it dies – both worms that die of old age and from being damaged show the same colourful pattern. While this might seem like a biological quirk, there are several similarities between these worms' fluorescent death throes and dying human nerve cells, making them a handy model for studying the process in the lab. Intriguingly, blocking the molecular pathways that cause the dye to be released in the worms can stave off death from damaging stress. Could this point to ways to save our brain cells one day?

Written by Kat Arney

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