In Dr. Pamela Padilla's lab, some roundworms -- more accurately known as C. elegans -- are starting to put on a little weight. It might have something to do with the steady stream of glucose they're consuming. The C. elegans with a more standard diet -- in this case, an E. coli strain known as OP50 -- are all maintaining their wormish figures.
It's all part of a National Institutes of Health-funded research project in which Padilla --associate vice president of research and innovation -- and three of her Ph.D. students, including Saifun "Ripa" Nahar, Manuel Ruiz and Jose Robledo, are using the C. elegans genetic model system to study how genes function. Dr. Rajeev Azad, associate professor in UNT's Department of Mathematics, also is a collaborator on the project, and is using computational tools to analyze the resulting large data sets.
The system models hyperglycemia, or high levels of glucose, which is a leading indicator of Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes most often develops in people over age 45, but an increasing number of children, teens and young adults also are developing it, which means understanding the effects of environmental factors like high-sugar diets is vitally important. Even in a simple system like the one the team is studying, the C. elegans produce insulin -- a process that is key to how metabolism is monitored in humans, and if negatively impacted, can trigger the onset of diabetes. With a high-sugar diet, the worms, Padilla's group says, can experience detrimental -- and in many cases, transgenerational -- modifications.
You can learn more about the team's research at the 15:40 mark in Episode 17 of UNT Pod, "Diabetes Awareness."