Connect with us

Geneticists Decode Genome of ‘Devil Worm’

Credit: Prof. John Bracht, American University

Where do you learn about heat resistance? Why, the Fiery Pits themselves!

Back in 2008, a team of geoscientists were scoping out an active gold mine in South Africa. They were looking for colonies of underground bacteria, but instead, they found worms. These weren’t normal worms, though; these worms had evolved to survive in one of the harshest climates on the planet, with intense heat, scarce food, and virtually no oxygen. In honor of its fiery, subterranean home, the scientists named these worms “Halicephalobus mephisto.” That’s in reference to the German demon Mephistopheles, not the Marvel Comics villain.

Over a decade later, researchers from American University have mapped out the genetic code of these “devil worms,” and what they found could prove valuable for the future. Within the worms’ genome is a set of instructions for mammalian resistance to intense heat, which we could always use more of since, y’know, climate change and all that. The devil worms have evolved to produce mass quantities of Hsp70, a heat-shock protein, within themselves. When organisms experience cellular damage due to intense heat, proteins like Hsp70 help to heal it. It is in this way that the worms are able to survive in such adverse conditions.

Obviously, it’s going to be a while before we can do anything practical for humanity with this knowledge, but every little nugget of knowledge is beneficial in adapting. When the world around you is undergoing massive changes, you either gotta adapt or fizzle out, and I ain’t no fizzler.