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WORCESTER, Mass. — In his Nobel Prize lecture in 2006, Craig Mello played a clip from a horror movie of sorts, starring a tiny worm. Filmed through a microscope, the worm wiggled toward a mysterious black ring and ominously slid through it.

“Watch this,” Mello said, pointing toward the screen. Suddenly, the ring snapped shut around the worm’s tail. The ring, Mello explained, is a lasso thrown by a fungus, readying to catch and devour its prey.


We walk over millions of these organisms in the soil every day, Mello told his audience in Stockholm, and never realize the “terrible things” happening beneath our feet. Although he laughed along with the crowd, these atrocities illustrate a biological process that has long fascinated him: how one organism captures genetic information from another.

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