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Dr. Bill's Commentaries

Dr. Bill Quick began writing at HealthCentral's diabetes website in November, 2006. These essays are reproduced at D-is-for-Diabetes with the permission of HealthCentral.


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April Fool’s Day and Metformin and Aging Worms   (April 1, 2013)

This morning, April 1st, I stumbled across a news item that sounded suspiciously like an April Fool’s joke: Study Reveals How Diabetes Drug Delays Ageing In Worms . My suspicion was increased when I saw a typo in the story that implied the researchers were excessively manly: “according to a stud [sic] using worms to investigate how the drug works” Sic, sic, sic.

The original research was published 28 March, in the journal Cell, with the typically imposing title of Metformin Retards Aging in C. elegans by Altering Microbial Folate and Methionine Metabolism. The studs who wrote the discussion described some extremely interesting findings about how long their worms survived: “In the presence of some E. coli strains, metformin increased lifespan, whereas with other strains or in the absence of microbes it shortened lifespan.” If I understand that sentence correctly, metformin plus some varieties of bacteria allowed worms to live longer – whereas metformin by itself shortened worm lifespan. That’s sad to find out, that you just can’t simply give worms plain old metformin and miraculously have them live longer…

Wait a minute! This raises an earth-shaking question: Do these findings apply to all worms, or only to C. elegans? This meant I had to find out what-in-the-world C. Elegans truly is. Turns out, Caenorhabditis  elegans  is a free-living, transparent nematode (roundworm), and is only about 1 mm in length. There are pictures of it at Wikipedia and elsewhere, and I reproduce below an elegant picture of a crawling C. Elegans for your viewing pleasure (picture provided by Bob Goldstein at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who has an entire website devoted to such creatures).



movie by Bob Goldstein, UNC

Back to my question: do these findings apply to all worms? Sorry to have to say this, but the studs sidestepped this question entirely, although they eagerly speculate that their findings might somehow apply to mammals (and presumably to humans?), pointing out that “In mammals, the intestinal microbiome influences host metabolism” and “metformin-induced alteration of microbial metabolism could contribute to therapeutic efficacy — and also to [metformin’s] side effects.”

Hey, wait a minute: they’re not saying that metformin could increase human lifespan. Or that it decreases lifespan. Guess it depends on what microbes we humans have compared to those in worms. Or at least in C. Elegans worms. Or something.

You learn something every day. Even on April Fool’s Day.

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