Scientists from UAH are working with the U.S army to find clues that may help to build therapies for Huntington's disease.
Lead researcher Dr. Lynn Boyd, an associate professor of biology at UAH has enlisted the help of an army of worms to find out what effect certain enzymes will have, on the clusters of amino acids associated with Huntington's disease.
The experiment is being carried out at the Army's Primary Standards Laboratory at Redstone Arsenal.
While it is not known if these clumps are good or not (scientists think it might be a way of the cell removing bad amino acids out of the way), the team has discovered some enzymes which make the clumps bigger, and some which make it smaller.
The worms come into the picture when the scientists attach glowing proteins derived from jellyfish to certain enzymes, which are then tagged onto the chromosomes of the worms.
They inject the dye-tagged genetic material into the worms before they are zapped by powerful radiation.
At just the right level of radiation, the DNA strands in the worms' unfertilized eggs snap and the dye-tagged material slips into the chromosomes.
The glowing protein is then reproduced in the worm's offspring. If the target material concentrates in clumps it creates glowing spots, giving the UAH researchers a tool for tracking what happens when specific enzymes are suppressed.
The UAH team hoped to tag individual strains of worms for seven specific enzymes.
Using human cells grown in a culture, Boyd found that suppressing the human enzymes that corresponded to the worm enzymes had the same effects on polyglutamine aggregates.
The researchers hope the findings will contribute to therapies aimed at treating Huntington's disease.