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The Power of Two

Night Light Show

Published March 20, 2014 3:25 PM by Eleanor Wolfram

When I was a child, the night light that my parents flicked on at dusk was basically a plain, white, small wall plugin. No complaints here. The night lights did it job of illuminating the dark creepy corners of my bedroom.

But the designs and colors of night lights have come a long way since then. Manufacturers offer large selections of decorative night lights which include shapes in the forms of speed boats, clowns, even burgers and fries. They can also be activated by dim lights, human touch, motion or a timer. And in addition to electric plug in, they now can be battery operated or solar.

I wonder what the next evolution will be, which brings me to a similar topic. Did you know that scientists recently discovered dying worms emit a glow? Yes it true. A wave of blue fluorescence lightening coming from an aged worm signals the death of a nematode worm. It seems that a circuitry phenomena occurs within the final hours of a worm's life, a wave of cell signals emit a bright blue light along the length of its body.

At first scientists deduce that worms accumulate lipofuscin components (cellular waste) as they aged. But researchers at the University College London (UCL) theorize that fluorescence light may be a buildup of lysosome-like gut granules.

David Gems and his UCL team put forth another finding and that is it doesn't matter what the age of the worm is. In fact worms dying at any age -- including larvae -- will emit the blue fluorescence light at death. Their research is showing that the contents of isolated granules from the worms' intestinal cells reveal the true source of blue fluorescence and that source is a substance called anthranilate. Anthranilate is activated upon cell death is released into the more alkaline cytoplasm, activating its fluorescence. Inhibiting pathways involved in necrosis prevented the death-related burst of fluorescence.

Furthermore, Gems and his team have found that the fluorescence essentially acts as a marker of necrosis as the worm is dying. These findings have implications in the field of cardiovascular medicine. It seems that very subtle light waves of necrosis have also been observed in cases of damaged tissues within humans suffering a heart attack or stroke. Researchers believe that these worm studies may have medical implications on how necrosis spreads from cell to cell in human disease, and how to cut off that spread.

posted by Eleanor Wolfram


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