Star Trek-Style "Phaser" Paralyzes Worms With a UV Blast

By Andrew Moseman | November 20, 2009 1:09 pm

nematodeblue220Feel like teaching a lesson to that pinhead-sized worm that’s been bothering you? According to a study in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, a  material called dithienylethene plus a blast of UV light can stop a worm in the midst of its worming, rendering it temporarily paralyzed.

The researchers fed a light-sensitive material — a “photoswitch” known as dithienylethene — to the transparent worms. When exposed to ultraviolet rays, the molecule turned blue and the worms became paralyzed. Using visible light instead made the chemical turn colorless and the paralysis ended [LiveScience]. Scientists aren’t sure why the transparent nematodes became paralyzed, but they know dithienylethene changes shapes and suspect it interferes with the worm’s energy-producing metabolic pathways. Repeated cycles of UV-induced paralysis actually killed some of the worms.

Unsurprisingly, news of this worm stun-gun led to longing for Star Trek-style phasers, and the scientists, though skeptical, were good sports about it. As lead researcher Neil Branda said tactfully: “I’m not convinced there’s a legitimate use of turning organisms on and off in terms of paralysis, but until somebody tells me otherwise, I’m not going to say that there isn’t an application” [BBC News].

But while phasers remain a fantasy, light-activated materials certainly have a future in medical research. Light-activated drugs could be used to activate tumour-killing drugs once they reach a particular location in the body. Similar chemicals have been used before, but have required a steady supply of light – often harmful UV bandwidths – to stay active. The new compounds, known as diarylethenes, could be more useful because they can be switched on and off with a single light pulse, Branda says [New Scientist].

Related Content:
80beats: Lasers Write False, Fearful Memories into the Brains of Flies
80beats: Worm Has a Spider-Sense Gene That Keeps it Out of Trouble
80beats: In Worms, a New Theory on Aging
Discoblog: New “Worm Charming” Champion Sets World Record

Image: Wiki Commons / Yonatanh

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Technology
  • BL Lewis

    An excellent tool in the coming war with the space worms of Nimibia

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

80beats

80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.
ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »