Communication and contact are key to the preservation of a species. Despite this, humans have evolved to learn that the use of too many words can often make our intended messages unclear. Well, maybe its time we take things down a notch in communicational complexity and learn a lesson or two from Caenorhabditis elegans, a free-living nematode that knows how to get straight to the point when communicating with its peers.
C. elegans is used as a model system for understanding social behaviors such as foraging, population density sensing, mating and aggregation. Like many other eusocial species, C. elegans utilize the effectiveness of chemical signaling for efficient intra- and inter-specific interactions. However, unlike most eusocial species C. elegans has produced an assortment of 150 different chemical pheromones, which are secreted from the nematode’s skin, and can induce and prohibit specific behavioral activities among its fellow nematodes.
Recent observations and analyses have shown that C. elegans use small molecule signals – called indole ascarosides – to regulate behaviors such as population density sensing and mating. These indole ascarosides are able to receive input from two major metabolic pathways, amino acid catabolism and lipid beta-oxidation, which suggests that C. elegans communicate metabolic status through the use of a modular code of small molecule signals.