Did you know that a flatworm can grow a new head or eye when the original is damaged? It’s true—and scientists have been curious about the process that allows worms to regrow body parts for quite some time now. Why? Because regeneration of body parts would be super useful to humans!
So how exactly does regeneration happen in a flatworm? To answer that question, scientists at the Reddien Lab in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology conducted a study on Schmidtea Mediterranea, a type of flatworm that’s a model for regeneration. These scientists found that cells focused on regrowth often die away as species grow into adults. In worms, however, these cells continue to be active throughout their lives. The study also showed that specialized cells hidden in the body could effectively “rewire” new cells to the brain. What does that mean? When a worm regrows an eye, for example, it is only useful if it is able to connect to the brain to transmit messages. These specialized cells attract the neurons from the new eye and rewire them to the brain. Can scientists find ways to replicate this in humans? While that might be a long time away, you bet we’ll be tracking this fascinating animal science story as it unfolds! Stay tuned!