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
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.
BPoD is also available in Catalan at www.bpod.cat with translations by the University of Valencia.