Water bug helps research into cardiomyopathy

10th October 2016

Researchers say they are learning more about cardiomyopathy from a water bug.

They report capturing the first-ever 3D image of a tiny strand of muscle the Thai bug uses as it flies.

The muscle is made of the protein myosin which provides the power for it – and our heart muscles – to contract.

"The image answers a whole lot of questions about myosin filaments that scientists have been wondering about for decades," said leading researcher Kenneth Taylor, professor of biological science from Florida State University.

The study, which looked at how heart muscle works and why it can develop problems, was published in the journal Science Advances.

Muscles have two filament types: myosin and actin. They mostly differ in that myosin filaments have two parts: a very long rod and a molecular motor.  The many rods form the backbone of the muscle filament. During contraction, molecular motors grab on to the muscles' actin filaments, resulting in muscle shortening. This process is accompanied by a certain force, and myosin rods have to be strong enough to withstand it.

Understanding muscle filaments better, particularly the myosin ones, is important in treating cardiomyopathy, says Professor Taylor.  Many cardiomyopathy mutations may be understood by thinking of them as problems in muscle relaxation.

Hoping their work leads to novel cardiomyopathy treatments in the future, the researchers are now trying to increase resolution in the filament images to get a better look at amino acids individually and get a better grasp of how they interact with each other.

The bug, officially called lethocerus indicus, is a popular fried delicacy in Thailand.

The study has received funding from the American Heart Association and the country’s National Institutes of Health.