Why hungry worms take risks

The worm Caenorhabditis elegans
The worm Caenorhabditis elegans.
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Credit: Salk Institute

LA JOLLA–Whether it’s making rash decisions or feeling grumpy, hunger can make us think and act differently—“hangry,” even. But little is known about how hunger signals in the gut communicate with the brain to change behavior. Now, Salk scientists are using worms as a model to examine the molecular underpinnings and help explain how hunger makes an organism sacrifice comfort and make risky decisions to get a meal.

Their latest findings, published in PLOS Genetics on May 5, 2022, reveal that proteins in intestinal cells move dynamically to transmit signals about hunger, ultimately driving worms to cross toxic barriers to reach food. Similar mechanisms may also occur in humans.

“Animals, whether it’s a humble worm or a complex human, all make choices to…
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