STATES CHRONICLE – Most of you are not fans of flatworms and with scientists helping flatworms grow heads and brains of other species you might really lose it. But when you try and think about it, this is actually amazing.
With a little help from scientists who manipulate the worms’ cell communication, flatworms can grow the heads and brains of other species and in time they return to their original form. So the modified flatworm goes back to being itself in just a few weeks.
For the experiment, scientists used flatworms from the small freshwater species that is renowned for its regeneration abilities. It seems that they can rebuild and replace tissue as well as organs that were damaged or lost. For example, if such a flatworm is cut in half, it will soon regrow a new upper half from the tail, which includes a new head and brain, whereas the head section will regrow a tail.
You’ll think that for growing another specie’s head and brain, a flatworm would need some DNA altering. According to scientists, this is not the case as they were able to get the worms to grow the parts of other species only by manipulating the proteins that controlled the communication between the cells.
This simple manipulation of cells lead the team of researchers from Tufts University to realize that the chromatin the material that creates chromosomes is not responsible for the shape of the organism. What could be responsible is how physiological networks communicate and override the default anatomy of the species.
The cells of these flatworms communicate through junctions made of protein by sending out impulses of electrical nature. The scientists interfered with these junctions, modifying them, which led to the growth of heads and brains of other species.
The flatworms that were studied are from the G. dorotocephala species and have pointed heads and two auricles, which is something similar to ears located near their eyes. In the end, after manipulation of the cells, these flatworms grew rounded heads like the S. mediterranea species, or back heads with thicker necks and pointed ears like P feline, or even triangular shaped heads like D. japonica.
The findings of this study can be very helpful for making advances in regenerative medicine or even in evolutionary biology. For example, in our first days as an embryo, we have totipotent stem cells that can actually become any type of cell. In other words, scientists are hoping that one day it could be possible to treat birth defects or regrow missing digits or limbs. And this, thanks to the flatworm that we all find creepy.
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