Hungry worms may help scientists understand mysterious biological forces

biological forces worms sensing ucnp rainbow
Alice Lay
There are strange biological forces at play within our bodies, and an interdisciplinary team of Stanford scientists is using an unconventional method to uncover them. By feeding glowing, nanoparticle-laced bacteria to millimeter-long worms, the researchers hope to measure information about these forces in real time.

The term “forces” is sort of a catchall for mechanical functions that play positive and negative roles in our bodies, from healing wounds to growing cancer cells and causing osteoporosis.

“Comparing forces exerted by healthy versus unhealthy cells … can lead to new ways to diagnosis and cure these diseases,” Alice Lay, one of the project’s leads, told Digital Trends. “Unfortunately, few available methods can measure forces in vivo. Thus, our research aims to develop a new class of in vivo sensors, with biocompatible size and robust optical readout, in order to image and record biological forces in real time.”

The nanoparticles used in this research glow when they’re struck by a specialized laser and the color they emit depends on the pressure exerted around them. In this way, they’re able to relay real-time data about their surroundings so that researchers can monitor and analyze the slight forces at play within the body.

Lay, who is a doctoral candidate in Jennifer Dionne’s materials science and engineering lab at Stanford, teamed up with Dionne and Miriam Goodman, a professor of molecular and cellular physiology, to investigate these forces. Although the project’s end goal is to uncover the forces at play in humans, the researchers decided to begin with tiny, transparent worms called Caenorhabiditis elegans.

Caenorhabiditis elegans are tiny roundworms and studies using this animal have informed topics ranging from developmental biology to neuroscience to ecology since the 1970s,” Goodman said. “Because their bodies are transparent, they are terrific subjects for research projects like this one that involve using light to detect physical forces and biological signals.” It helps that these worms love to gobble up bacteria, which can be easily laced with the light-responsive nanoparticles.

“To put it another way,” Goodman said, “the worms like to eat tiny things, they are not very picky about what they eat, and we can watch them chew up their food because their bodies are transparent.”

Humans and roundworms may not look alike, but our digestive mechanisms have a couple things in common — we both gnaw and swallow. By studying how the nanoparticles react to these digestive forces, the researchers can gain insight into how they might be used to investigate the forces at play in humans.

The team still have plenty of work ahead of them before they conduct human trials. They’ll begin by studying healthy worms and then introduce mutations to examine how gene expression may influence cellular forces. After that they’ll look to use these nanoparticles to study the forces at work between tissues and cells.

Health & Fitness

Microsoft says it’s closing its HealthVault patient records service

Microsoft has announced it is closing its HealthVault service, which offered a way for individuals to store and share their health records with medical professionals. Users are advised to act soon if they want to save their data.
Movies & TV

The best movies on Netflix in March, from Buster Scruggs to Roma

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix right now (April 2019)

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Movies & TV

These are the best movies on Hulu right now (April 2019)

From dramas to blockbusters, Hulu offers some great films to its subscribers. Check out the best movies on Hulu, whether you're into charming adventure tales or gruesome horror stories.
Health & Fitness

Competitors question Trek’s claims about its new bike helmet tech

Trek's new WaveCel helmet technology is being called into question by competitors MIPS and Koroyd, neither of which have been able to verify the claims of vastly improved safety results that trek claims.

The ultimate golf watch isn’t a smartwatch. It’s Hublot’s Big Bang Unico Golf

Forget golf smartwatches, the Hublot Big Bang Unico Golf is the ultimate timepiece to wear out on the links. It's the world's first mechanical golf watch, and will keep score for you throughout the game.
Emerging Tech

Chinese doctors use 5G to perform surgery from hundreds of miles away

The surgeon behind your future life-saving surgery might not have to be in the same room as you. Heck, thanks to the burgeoning 5G revolution, they might not have to be in the same state.
Health & Fitness

Latest version of Closca’s collapsible bike helmet is made for urban explorers

Closca has updated its bike helmet with a new lightweight, collapsible design that is available in a variety of color combinations and has been built with the urban rider specifically in mind.
Health & Fitness

From the office to the gym, these are the best smartwatches for fitness

The line between smartwatch and fitness tracker continues to blur. To help narrow the field of the best fitness watches, we sifted through what's available and curated a list of devices worthy of a spot on your wrist.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Halfbikes, VR for all your senses, and more

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it's fun to gawk!

The best sound machines to help you fall (and stay) asleep

Whether you find that sleep better with white noise, rain sounds, or deep sleep music, there’s a sound machine on the market that will be able to help you catch more z’s in no time at all.

Stay fit and save cash with our top 10 affordable Fitbit alternatives

As much as we love Fitbits, they're rather expensive. If all you want is a simple activity tracker, however, then check out these great cheap Fitbit alternatives. With offerings from brands like Garmin, you don't need to pay full price.
Emerging Tech

Scientists manage to 3D print an actual heart using human cells

Scientists at Tel Aviv University have achieved a world-first by 3D printing a small-scale heart, complete with blood vessels, ventricles, and chambers. Here's why that's so exciting.