Researchers studying the nematode worm C. elegans have discovered a new mechanism by which the millimeter-long critter flexes its pooping muscles. It's protons! A group from the University of Utah reports in Cell that protons excreted by the worm's gut proteins trigger neighboring muscles to knead the enclosed feces, making possible a satisfying bowel movement. The team says the proton--or "poop-on," in "News Bytes"' preferred locution--is thus by far the smallest known neurotransmitter (nerve-stimulating agent). The investigators note that the human and mouse brains also contain proton pumps, meaning--that's right: protons might make your brain poop electricity. (University of Utah press release)
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JR Minkel was a news reporter for Scientific American.