Spider Webs May Hold the Answers to Aging

We all get older. We are all constantly aging. Every minute of every day we are getting closer to our deaths. This may sound depressing, but scientists have recently been using spiders to unlock hidden clues to the aging process.  Could it be possible that the keys to staying young may be written in their webs?

Researchers, like Dr. Mylène Anotaux from Nancy University in France, think so (Society for Experimental Biology, 2011). They believe that the spiders lose the ability to make a good web as they age as a result of degeneration of the central nervous system.  As Anotaux says, “Because of the importance of understanding the underlying behavioral mechanisms of aging in humans, investigating simple animal models that assess aging mechanisms is essential” (Society for Experimental Biology, 2011).

Awesome Arachnids

European House Spider

European House Spider (Image source: by permission of Ian Pembroke)

Up until now, not much research has been done using these spiders as model organisms for aging; however, a 2012 study done in France examines the possibility of using such a creature for biomedical research.  Scientists believe that the European House Spider (scientific name Zygiella x-notata) would be ideal as a model organism for many reasons.  Not only does it exhibit this pattern of degenerative web making, but it has a short life span- less than one year.  It also has a very simple nervous system (Society for Experimental Biology, 2011) and is small and “easy to maintain in laboratories” (Anotaux, 2012).  Finally, this spider typically makes geometric webs, so changes in these webs can be easily measured and correlated to neurodegeneration (Anotaux, 2012).

A spider web. The answers to aging might lie in the European House Spider’s web.

A spider web. The answers to aging might lie in the European House Spider’s web.

Female spiders, which live longer than males, continue to make new webs daily all the way through adulthood (Anotaux, 2012).  This means that scientists are able to monitor the web-making progress on a daily basis and track changes over an extended period of time.  These qualities make it an ideal model organism for studying the degenerative effects of aging.  Researchers would be able to test a wide variety of medicines or other treatments to determine their effects on the way these spiders age.  According to Anotaux and her fellow researchers, further studies could be done to examine how changes in telomere length, or other age related changes, are related to web construction (2012).

Neurodegenerative Diseases

Today, millions of people suffer from neurodegenerative diseases, which are associated with age.  These include (but are not limited to) Alzheimer’s, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Friedreich’s ataxia, Hurlington’s, Parkinson’s and spinal muscular atrophy (NIH, 2013).  Neurons are the electrical wiring system in your body.  They transmit important messages and information using electrical and chemical signals.  Neurons can be equated to the wires in your house.  Neurodegenerative diseases cause the neurons to fire incorrectly or to become damaged and die (Jellinger, 2001).  This is equivalent to the wire of a lamp fraying so that the lamp will no longer give off light.  As these diseases progress, more and more neurons become damaged until the body can no longer function- a complete power outage in your house.  Ultimately, patients suffering from neurodegenerative diseases may lose control of muscle function, losing the ability to speak, eat or even breathe.  These conditions can be life-threatening and, sadly, there are no known cures (NIH, 2013).

Neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, cause neurons to fire improperly.

Neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, cause neurons to fire improperly.

Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in America; over 5 million people are living with the disease (Alzheimer’s Association, 2013).  According to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, as many as one million Americans live with Parkinson’s and medication can be very expensive (Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, 2013).  Neurodegenerative diseases are a growing problem in today’s world; as more people are living longer, these diseases are becoming more prevalent.

Now more than ever, research in this area needs to be done.  This is why the study conducted by Anotaux and her fellow researchers is so vital.  If neurodegeneration can be better understood using European House Spiders as model organisms, we will be that much closer to developing new, better, more affordable treatments for these diseases.

Caveat

The study conducted by Anotaux and the team of researchers shows the amazing possibilities of using the Zygiella x-notata as a model for neurology research.  However, no studies have yet been published on neurodegeneration using these creatures as subjects.  Additionally, this was the only study that I found done on the feasibility of using this organism in this field of research.  Therefore, although the European house spider could hold great promise for future cures or treatments for neurodegenerative diseases, more research should be done.  The answers to aging might be written clearly in their webs.

In Brief

  • Neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, affect millions of people every year.
  • The European house spider, Zygiella x-notata, could serve as an ideal model organism for these diseases.
  • While this spider holds promise as a model organism, no studies have yet been published on the topic, suggesting that more research needs to be conducted.

Works Cited

This article was written by cYw9. As always, before leaving a response to this article please view our Rules of Conduct. Thanks! -cYw Editorial Staff

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Author: cYw9

“Hey! I am super excited to have the opportunity to write articles for cYw! I love all things biology and was thrilled to research amazing model organisms. I recently graduated from a STEM vocational school, which focuses on Biotechnology. I am planning on going to college in the fall, hopefully double majoring in biology and an interdisciplinary concentration involving anthropology, neuroscience, environmental science, and geology. In my spare time, I enjoy creating and appreciating art as well as reading and researching science. I’m also very involved in school and volunteer in both my school and local communities.”

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4 Comments

  1. #curiousYOUNGwriters #sciencewriting I really learned a great amount reading about how European house spiders may help scientists cure neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. I really benefitted from learning how the scientists involved will approach curing these diseases-they will study the deterioration of the spiders’ webs as they age. I also learned that the scientists chose the European house spiders because of their short life span, simple nervous system, and the fact that the spiders webs are geometrically constructed, which makes them easier to study for the scientists. I didn’t know that it was possible to model mental degeneration through the craftsmanship/quality of a spider’s web! Does anyone know if another animal could be studied on the deterioration of the building of something (i.e. a bird’s nest building skills)?

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  2. #curiousYOUNGwriters #aging #spiderwebs #neurodegenerativediseases #spider #scientificliteracy: From reading this article I am able to see what improvements that can be made by studying this species of spider to help those with neurodegenerative diseases. Millions of people every year are being diagnosed with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, ALS and Parkinson’s disease. However, no cures have been found. If using and analyzing the quality of the Zygiella x-notata’s webs is able to help to find new medications or cures for these irreversible diseases, I think that we would all be thankful. I can’t wait to see new and upcoming research on this topic.

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  3. #curiousYOUNGwriters #spiderwebs #aging #neurodegenerativediseases I learned a lot from this article about how studying the degenerative webs of the European House Spider can help researchers make conclusions about neurodegenerative diseases. It amazes me how we can find answers to such huge answers in something as seemingly insignificant as spiderwebs. I always knew that research was being done on these neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and that small progress was being made, but I never would’ve guessed that a huge breakthrough in research would’ve come from spiders. It just goes to show that answers can be found where you least expect them.

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  4. #curiousYOUNGwriters #neurodegenerativediseases #Zygelliax-notata #spiders #cYw9 This article just blew my mind. The fact that science has made a new advancement in a field as sensitive as this is astounding. The idea that we could cure disease like Alzheimers and Parkinsons, which be thought to be incurable, is amazing. People all across America and the rest of the world will greatly benefit from this discovery. Even though proper research and studies on this topic has not been conducted yet, I have a feeling that it will be successful in finding that the European house spider will serve as a biological model to help to further understand and cure neurodegenerative diseases. Since the publishing of this article have any studies about the topic been conducted and if so, what were the results?

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