PerspectiveEvolution

Surviving in a Toxic World

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Science  03 Feb 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6068, pp. 545-546
DOI: 10.1126/science.1218166

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Summary

The world can be a dangerous place. Although the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans is probably best known as a model organism thriving in the undemanding environment of research laboratories, in nature it lives in the soil, exposed to many toxic compounds that are often produced by the microorganisms on which it feeds. One group of these compounds, the avermectins, are produced by the soil bacterium, Streptomyces avermitilis (1). On page 574 of this issue, Ghosh et al. (2) report that a natural variation in a C. elegans gene, glc-1, confers resistance to the avermectins and also to S. avermitilis. Because avermectin resistance is a serious problem in veterinary medicine (3), and ivermectin (a semisynthetic avermectin) is used to control human parasitic diseases such as river blindness (4), this result has wider implications for effective parasite control and human health.