Have you ever wondered why on earth scientists spend good money conducting experiments with mice, insects and even worms?
A story I wrote this week for COSMOS magazine might help argue the case a little.
To set the scene, imagine you’re a scientist trying to unravel how a hormone – say, oxytocin – has an impact on human behaviour and mood. Wouldn’t it be great if you could somehow create a group of humans who had no oxytocin, and then compare them to a group of normal humans. You could expose the normal and oxytocin-lacking humans to a stressful situation, and see which group coped best. You could put males lacking oxytocin and normal males in a room full of females and see who managed to impregnate the most women.
Clearly we cannot allow such experiments to happen.
What we can do is try and find examples of simpler animals which have elements of their biology in common with humans. This is where the worms come in. Two papers and a perspective published today in the highly thought-of journal Science have discovered that small transparent worms known as C. elegans have an oxytocin-like hormone system which regulates their sexual activity and decision-making processes. This opens up a whole new avenue for studying how oxytocin and other similar hormones are important in healthy and not-so-healthy humans.
To learn more, see my COSMOS article here.
[image thanks to Leopard Print on flickr]