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Science in Mind

Worm study suggests diet has big effect on health

Usually, we think of food as fuel — a source of calories and nutrients that have obvious effects on our health if we overindulge or are malnourished. Now, researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School have found in a laboratory study that the precise composition of a diet can have profound health effects, suggesting that exactly what’s in each mouthful may matter more than anyone anticipated.

The findings, reported in two studies in Cell on Thursday, point to the existence of a still-unidentified substance, such as a hormone, that alters the health of microscopic roundworms dramatically. Worms given a diet spiked with even a little bit of a particular soil-dwelling bacteria matured more quickly, had fewer offspring, and died earlier than worms on a standard laboratory diet.

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