Male worms have a 'sex switch' to help them insert their penis into a mate

Male worms have a 'sex switch' in their brain which helps them insert their 'penis' into a mate, scientists find UCL researchers found roundworms can convert a cell into a specialised neuron This ability to convert mature cells for a different purpose is exceedingly rare   Male roundworms convert glial cells to neurons when at sexual maturity  It allows them to move backwards over their mate to readjust their position and allow them to insert their spicules into its mate  

By Joe Pinkstone For Mailonline

Published: 08:00 GMT, 3 November 2020 | Updated: 08:00 GMT, 3 November 2020

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A sexual and biological phenomenon has been discovered lurking in the cells of the unspectacular roundworm.

UCL researchers found male worms have the ability to turn a normal cell into a navigation neuron which helps the animal get into the right position during sex.   

The cell changes as the animal reaches sexual maturity and it allows the male worm to shimmy down its mate and get into the right spot so its reproductive organ, called spicules, can get inside its mate.

The ability for a mature cell to change its purpose mid-way through an animal's life is almost unheard of in nature.

The researchers hope to unpick the cellular mechanism in order to reprogramme cells to take up new functions, potentially creating new therapeutics.  

UCL researchers found male worms have the ability to turn a normal cell into a navigation neuron which helps the animal get into the right position during sex. The cell changes as the animal reaches sexual maturity (stock)

UCL researchers found male worms have the ability to turn a normal cell into a navigation neuron which helps the animal get into the right position during sex. The cell changes as the animal reaches sexual maturity (stock)

Co-lead author Dr Richard Poole said: 'Once a cell has its own identity with a particular function, this is considered to be fixed throughout the life of the animal.

'But here, we describe in detail the case of a specialised cell that switches to a new cell type with a completely unrelated function later in the animal's life.'

Roundworms, also known as C.

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