A new study from University of Nevada, Reno, has found that the circadian clock of the Caenorhabditis elegans worm could provide important insights into the mammalian circadian clock.

“Circadian rhythms are important in all organisms because they regulate biological functions such as food intake, temperature, metabolic rate and sleep,” said Alexander van der Linden.

“The discovery of clock-controlled genes in C. elegans should lead to an expanded research role in worms, and give a better understanding of the mammalian circadian clock,” he added.

A team of researchers led by professors of biology Piali Sengupta and Michael Rosbash at Brandeis University, Waltham, and lead author van der Linden, who is a former postdoctoral fellow in the Sengupta Lab and now assistant professor in the College of Science at the University of Nevada, Reno, has uncovered genes in C. elegans under clock control from both light and temperature.

“We now not only have a new model to study the function of this important biological clock, but we can also study how the clock evolved over time, since nematodes and humans diverged about 600 to 1,200 million years ago,” said van der Linden.

Almost every organism on earth exhibits circadian rhythms -- periodic cycles of behavior or gene expression that repeat roughly every 24 hours. These rhythms are generated by a circadian clock -- an internal time-keeping mechanism -- which can be entrained and synchronized by environmental signals such as temperature or light/dark cycles.

“Given its small and well-mapped nervous system, combined with a wealth of available genetic and behavioral tools, C. elegans is a viable research organism in the circadian field. The next critical step will be to determine how these worm molecular rhythms relate to circdian behavioural rhythms,” he said.

The research was published in the peer-reviewed, open-access journal, PLoS Biology.

More In: Science | Sci-Tech