Hundreds of worms lie in a small plastic plate under the laboratory microscope. Over the last three years, the group of Associate Professor Roger Pocock has used the roundworm
to study the development of the nervous system. They have just made an important discovery.
"Our new results show that a small molecule called mir-79 is indispensable for development of the worm's nervous system. mir-79 acts by equipping special signal molecules with a transmitter, which tells the nerve cells how they should migrate during development of the worm. If we remove mir-79 with gene technology, development of the worm nervous system goes awry," says postdoc Mikael Egebjerg Pedersen, who is responsible for the experimental studies.
Mir-79 adds just the right combination of sugar
The research shows that mir-79 acts by controlling the addition of certain groups of sugars to selected signaling molecules. In the world of cells, sugar molecules act as transmitters.
When the nerve cells come into contact with the sugar-transmitters, they are informed where to locate themselves during neural development. If the researchers remove mir-79, the migration of the nerve cells is misguided causing neuronal defects in the worms.