Earthworms are not even among the most popular creatures on the planet, as most people find them repulsive. But by revealing how earthworms eat dead leaves, a team of researchers has demonstrated just how valuable these small critters are to the world we live in.
The research project was conducted by the Imperial College London and its findings reveal that earthworms produce a special molecule in their gut that enables them to decompose the food that they eat. The researchers have named these molecules “drilodefensines” because they have two very important functions.
The first is to break down the larger molecules in the chemicals from their food, much as enzymes function and the second feature is to keep the earthworms safe from certain molecules in the plants that are poisonous to most other small creatures. This probably how they got their name, because their defensive role enables the earthworms to eat the dead leaves off the ground.
And if this still does not seem like something worth appreciating, then think about how the world around you would look like if it was covered in dead leaves. The Imperial College London researchers point out that the leaves would decompose to a certain extent after which they would create a generalized layer that would get thicker an thicker every fall.
Furthermore, the damage would not only be related to the appearance of the landscapes. “Our countryside would be unrecognizable, and the whole system of carbon cycling would be disrupted.” said Imperial College London’s Jake Bundy.
Taking into account the amount of dead leaves out there and the immense amount of earthworms as well, the researchers have reached the conclusion that for every human on the planet there is one kilogram of drilodefensins present in the earthworms’ guts, which is a massive quantity. This multitude of minute molecules are essentially helping to keep keep our planet clean and cool, which is quite a impressive achievement.
The complete study was published in the August 4th edition of the scientific journal Nature Communications. This research project reveals just how important the development of state of the art technology can be to science, because it was through advanced spectrometry that the scientists have been able to track the exact location of the drilodefensins and ultimately identify their use.
By using the proper tools, a great amount of nature’s mysteries could be uncovered and we could get a much better understanding of the importance of all the small creatures that significantly contribute to the development of the world as we know it.
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