Study finds that intact sensory cilia, little hairs on the worm's head that help it sense its surroundings, are required for the paralysis to work.
A fungus paralyzes its tiny worm prey by acting on the worm's own sensory hairs!
Microbe of the episode
Microbe of the episode: Bat associated cyclovirus 9
Not all predators are fast or agile; some are sneaky, or good trap builders, or just good chemists. The predator club includes animals but also plants and even fungi. For example, the oyster mushroom fungus can paralyze roundworms in the soil that touch its filaments, then degrade their bodies and consume their nutrients.
The mechanism of this paralysis has been a mystery, but it's one step closer to being solved. This study found that intact sensory cilia, little hairs on the worm's head that help it sense its surroundings, are required for the paralysis to work. Worms with mutations in the structure of their cilia were protected from paralysis. How exactly the fungus acts on these cilia and the neurons they connect to, though, is still unknown.