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Nematodes ‘speak’ a universal language

Biologists have decoded the language of worms to discover that different roundworm species communicate by using the same types of chemical cues.

All animals seem to have ways of exchanging information—monkeys vocalize complex messages, ants create scent trails to food, and fireflies light up their bellies to attract mates. Yet, despite the fact that nematodes, or roundworms, are among the most abundant animals on the planet, little has been known about the way they network.

Previous research had recently shown that a much-studied nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans, uses certain chemical signals to trade data. What was unknown was whether other worms of the same phylum “talk” to one another in similar ways.

But when researchers at California Institute of Technology (Caltech) looked at a variety of nematodes, they found the very same types of chemicals being combined and used for communication, says Paul Sternberg, professor of biology. “It really does look like we’ve stumbled upon the letters or words of a universal nematode language, the syntax of which we don’t yet fully understand.”
 
 

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