The worm behind this year's Nobel prize in medicine may also help scientists better understand the aging process, according to a new report. Three scientists who study Caenorhabditis elegans won this year's award for their investigations of the genetic processes that control organ development and cell death. Now findings published today in the journal Nature suggest that, in much the same way that humans do, the lowly worm experiences sagging muscles and a growing middle as it ages.

Monica Driscoll of Rutgers University and her colleagues studied the effects of aging on the C. elegans's cells and tissues. They discovered a condition known as sarcopenia, which is characterized by a progressive loss of strength and muscle mass. In particular, the researchers found that one enzyme, known as age-1/PI3 kinase, needs to be present in order for this muscle deterioration to occur. Because sarcopenia is also observed in people, the results could lead to a better understanding of the human aging process. "Once you have figured out what a key molecule is doing in the worm," Driscoll says, "you can look for it in humans and expect the same things to happen."