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X-rated sex tape ... for worms

BioMed Central
Click for video: Watch
mating worms. (Credit:
Paul Sternberg, Allyson
Whittaker, Caltech)

How do you spice up a report about the mating habits of nematode worms? Well, how about an online video of hot nematode-on-nematode action?

The video and an accompanying news release are related to a research paper published today in the open-access journal BMC Biology.

The paper focuses on the male mating behavior of Caenorhabditis elegans, an oft-studied worm species.

The point of the research is that the male possesses two sets of muscle groups that facilitate mating by keeping his tail in contact with a hermaphrodite mate while he probes for the proper, um, opening. One of the opposing sets of muscles is sex-specific - and that set is key to the males' tail-turning trick.

To study how those muscles are controlled, the researchers (Caltech's Allyson Whittaker and Paul Sternberg) fiddled with the worms' levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. They also studied mutant males who don't mate as well as the typical nematode because of their chemical shortcomings.

The paper delves deeply into the molecular and neural pathways that underlie worm mating techniques and, more generally, the interaction of opposing muscle sets. If you read it all the way through, you're either a serious student of developmental biology - or you're the kind of person who buys Playboy just for the articles.

For some classic "worm porn," check out this archived item from P.Z. Myers' Pharyngula Weblog.

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