Death Slow Blue Light: Worms Emit Glow As They Die, Says Study [VIDEO]
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"We've identified a chemical pathway of self-destruction that propagates cell death in worms, which we see as this glowing blue fluorescence traveling through the body," said David Gems from London's UCL Institute of Healthy Ageing and the author of the study. "It's like a blue grim reaper, tracking death as it spreads throughout the organism until all life is extinguished."
The slow blue light, which the scientists observed under a microscope, is necrosis, or the death of the cells. Originally the source of the blue light was thought to be lipofuscin, which has been observed in molecular damage linked with aging, but the British scientists say it's actually anthranilic acid coursing through the body of the worm. As the cells slowly die, the slow blue light spreads throughout.
"We've identified a chemical pathway of self-destruction that propagates cell death in worms, which we see as this glowing blue fluorescence travelling through the body," said Gems. "It's like a blue Grim Reaper, tracking death as it spreads throughout the organism until all life is extinguished."
Gems and his team wanted to see whether they could stop the slow blue light--and thus death--from spreading through the worm. The implications of stopping such a wave of cellular death in worms, of course, could hopefully be translated to humans eventually. But Gems and his team were only able to stop the spread of cell damage up to a point.
"We found that when we blocked this pathway, we could delay death induced by a stress such as infection, but we couldn't slow death from old-age," Gems said. "This suggests that ageing causes death by a number of processes acting in parallel."
The biggest takeaway from this study, Gems suggests, is that cellular death happens gradually, and if scientists can find a way to interrupt the slow blue pathway of cells dying, life could be extended.
"Together the findings cast doubt on the theory that ageing is simply a consequence of an accumulation of molecular damage. We need to focus on the biological events that occur during ageing and death to properly understand how we might be able to interrupt these processes," said Gems.
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