Escherichia coli is a powerful model organism to help us understand biochemical pathways and enzyme function. In E. coli, biosynthetic pathway mutants are conditionally viable depending on the composition of the nutrient media. Genetic analysis allows enzyme function to be linked to gene sequences. E. coli is used in the lab as a food source for the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans, a model organism for the understanding of basic animal biology. Recent work has shown that specific biosynthetic pathways in E. coli can influence C. elegans aging. Careful experimentation is needed to determine whether E. coli biochemistry influences aging by altering C. elegans nutrition or through changes to bacterial functions, such as toxin production. Understanding these interactions in the C. elegans–E. coli model “super-organism” will inform studies of how bacteria of the human microbiota interact with the host.

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