Why physical training for worms and flies could make humans healthier



Creepy crawlies can provide unique insight into the benefits of exercise for humans – but how do you knock off a fruit fly and give yourself 20 or a nematode to run a marathon?


December 16, 2020


Brett ryder

RUN run run run THUD run run run run THUD. It’s the constant pace of the Power Tower that subjects a cohort of athletes to extreme physical training. Each round begins with a vertical sprint along a smooth wall, before a jerk from the machine sends them falling back down again. Hour after hour, hundreds are put to the test. And wow, do they get results: stronger hearts, faster climbs, greater endurance, and a metabolism wired to withstand stress. Not bad for a little fly, you will usually find bananas haunting or floating face down in your glass of Shiraz.

Fruit flies aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of fitness training, but they provide a surprising window into the biology of exercise. It’s not even the strangest invertebrates hitting the gym. This medal goes to a small nematode worm called Caenorhabditis elegans whose transparent body allows scientists to see the physical consequences of the activity in action.

But there is a problem. You can’t just pitch these creatures in front of a training video and tell them to feel the burn. So how do you drop a fly and give yourself 20 or a worm to run a marathon? Like any good personal trainer, you understand your client’s motivations and design your training accordingly. That’s where the Power Tower comes in, along with laser treadmills, electrified swimming pools, and other unusual gym equipment. It’s not just the invertebrates that benefit. This evil research generates unique insights into how exercise affects human health and aging.

Thank you …

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