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Brainiac

Big Data: 1 millimeter

Caenorhabditis elegans, a free-living transparent nematode (roundworm), about 1 mm in length. Fluorescence micrograph.
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Caenorhabditis elegans.
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1 millimeter: That’s the length of Caenorhabditis elegans, a type of roundworm that has the curious distinction of experiencing the same types of withdrawal symptoms from nicotine that humans endure. Scientists at the University of Michigan studying the worms identified specific genes responsible for how the creatures develop nicotine addictions in the first place and also how they experience withdrawal. The importance of this particular genetic mechanism had been dismissed by scientists, who first began to understand it decades ago. But more sophisticated modern techniques have refocused attention on the genes that may hold the clue to why it’s so hard for humans to quit smoking.

Alex Kingsbury can be reached at alex.kingsbury@globe.com.