Flatworm could facilitate research on easing Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s

A regenerative flatworm could play a role in developing treatments for neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Flatworm could facilitate research on easing Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s

Con Moran, a student at Coláiste Choilm, Ballincollig, Co Cork, spent the last five years examining a marine flatworm called Symsagittfera roscoffensis and the algae, Tetraselmis convoltuae, that it assimilates into its cells, giving it a green colour. Its common name in the Channel Islands is the ‘mint sauce worm’.

Con, 18, who is competing for tonight’s crown in the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition at the RDS in Dublin, looked at the nervous system of the 15mm worm and found it exhibits functional behaviours that can be measured and analysed so it has potential in neuroscience.

The fifth-year student developed experiments to see if he could condition the worm to form memories. “I removed specific sections of the worm’s brain and found that it could fully regenerate functionality in its brain after areas had been amputated,” he explained.

He believes that because the worm can regenerate its entire nervous system and form memories, it could facilitate ground-breaking research on easing neuro- degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Con got the idea for his project after reading an encyclopaedia of science. “It had a page on symbiosis and the worm was mentioned in a paragraph. I thought it was interesting and decided to do more research on it.

“I did my experiments at University College Cork. I asked them if they would help me. I proposed the project to them, and they loaned me the stuff I needed.”

Another strong contender for the title is Caoimhe Sanchez, a fourth year student at Bandon Grammar School, Co Cork, who has developed a simple home test to count faecal parasitic eggs in farm animals.

Caoimhe, 15, said she developed a microscope using simple household items.

She placed a mobile phone, with a lens on the camera, in the home-made frame, together with a light. She then inserted a slide containing the faeces mixed with a floatation solution in the microscope and examined it using the phone.

“Farmers can use their own mobile phones to count the parasites in the faeces using the McMaster counting technique and treat the animals themselves,” she explained.

Having a pint… Niall Lyons, Coláiste Chríost Rí, with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin. Picture: Conor McCabe Photography
Having a pint… Niall Lyons, Coláiste Chríost Rí, with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin. Picture: Conor McCabe Photography

Caoimhe said her simple method of making faecal parasite counts means farmers don’t have to spend time and money sending samples to a laboratory to be tested.

Students from Kinsale Community School, Co Cork, conducted a statistical analysis of dream recollection and found that those who engage in watersports are more likely to have nightmares.

First year students, Sarah Carroll, 13, Anna Peare, 13, and Leah Hurley, 12, said St Patrick had a dream that the Irish were calling him back to Ireland.

But the night before he ate a wild boar — which supported their results that eating before going to bed helps in recalling dreams.

Sarah said they based their findings on 1,000 responses to their survey: “We found that younger people remembered their dreams more than older people and that playing video and computer games increased your chances of remembering them.”

Least likely to remember their dreams are those who engage in competitive sports.

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