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Businessweek Archives

Longer Life For Worms

Developments to Watch

Longer Life--for Worms

The mere act of breathing unleashes into the bloodstream a torrent of reactive molecules called free radicals, which damage cells and are associated with aging. Now, an international team of researchers claims to have discovered a way to avoid the damage. If so, the technique might amount to a fountain of youth--even if only in worms. In the Sept. 1 issue of Science, the group reported extending the life span of the lowly worm Caenorhabditis elegans from three to six weeks simply by giving it a souped-up antioxidant.

The researchers discovered their elixir while combing through the scientific literature. Since 1991, Eukarion Inc., a small biotech company in Bedford, Mass., has been developing synthetic versions of a naturally occurring antioxidant called super oxide dismutase. One of them, EUK-134, proved highly effective in mice at preventing the tissue damage associated with degenerative syndromes like Alzheimer's disease. When Simon Melov, a biologist at the Buck Institute for Age Research in Novato, Calif., saw the data, he wondered if the compounds would also extend life span. He tested his theory by bathing hundreds of worms in different concentrations of the Eukarion compound.

It worked. On average, worms given EUK-134 lived 44% longer than their untreated cousins. Will it work in humans? We are many years from an answer, scientists say. Edited by Ellen LickingReturn to top

Battling a Bug: From Gene Map to War Map

Pseudomonas Aeruginosa is an exceptionally nasty bacterium. Naturally resistant to most antibiotics, it lurks in soil, lakes, even drinking water. Although it rarely infects healthy people, the bug is deadly to immuno-compromised patients, including those with cystic fibrosis or AIDS. But science may finally have the upper hand against this resilient pathogen. A team of researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle and PathoGenesis Corp. announced in the Aug. 31 issue of Nature that they have completely sequenced the bacterium's genome.Pseudomonas has a much larger and more complex genome than any other previously sequenced microbe. Studies predict that even though it is just a single-cell organism, the germ has almost half as many genes as the structurally complicated fruit fly. Within this cornucopia of genes lies the secret to the bacterium's resilience. Under the right conditions, the bug synthesizes special pump proteins to siphon off lethal antibiotics, says E. Peter Greenberg, a microbiologist at the University of Iowa. Find molecules that block these pumps and you might have a new therapy, says Greenberg.Edited by Ellen LickingReturn to top

Dumbing Down Your Fuel System

Auto researchers at Purdue University, working with Ford Motor Co., have an elegant solution to a problem with today's computerized fuel-injection systems. These systems have databases that are packed with information about air-to-fuel ratios under different driving conditions. They determine the optimal fuel flow as conditions change by comparing those data with input from sensors in the engine and exhaust system. The trouble is, the databases are expensive to develop. And system performance deteriorates over time as fuel injectors become partly clogged and the sensor readings start to "drift."

Purdue engineer Matthew A. Franchek thinks there's a better approach: Replace the database with two simple equations that track fuel needs under all conditions. Engineers will no longer have to calibrate each new engine type under a bevy of different speeds, loads, or climatic conditions. Each new family of engines will need just one calibration. Franchek's approach will also compensate for the aging of components because those changes, over a period of years, normally occur as consistent percentages, such as an across-the-board 10% increase in a particular sensor's readings. "In many cases people will never even know anything was going wrong with their cars," says Franchek. By Mitch Nelin; Edited by Ellen LickingReturn to top

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