Flatworms grow extra head in space, helps scientists understand effects of gravity over cell activity.
Scientists have taken the next step to study the regenerative capabilities of the planarian flatworm and have brought a few of them to the International Space Station (ISS), which has yielded some very surprising results.
The goal of the space experiment was to see how the microgravity and fluctuations of geomagnetic field in space would affect the worm’s regeneration and cell activity in preparation for longer manned space flights.
Leaving for the space station with their heads and tails cut off, the flatworms displayed very unusual regeneration; the most bizarre being a rare growing of a second head on amputated side of the worm, which is something that researcher Junji Morokuma said had never been observed in the worms before.
The worms that were left alone went through “spontaneous fission” and split into two worms instead. The study went on for five weeks, with worms being sealed inside separate tubes with different amounts of air and water. However, the researchers inferred that this happened as a result of temperature fluctuations and not the effects of space.
After the worms returned to Earth, Morokuma and this team of researchers compared them to normal worms in a lab for 20 months.
For the first few hours, the space worms remained curled up and paralyzed before they started swimming normally again. The researchers concluded that the worms needed time to readjust themselves to Earth.
“This indicates that [the worms] modified their biological state to accommodate the environmental change; when reintroduced to fresh water, the environmental change back to standard living conditions resulted in severe shock because of their altered metabolic state,”
Another surprising discovery they made was that the worms that had grown two heads in space refused to revert back to being one-headed, even growing out its second head again when it was cut off. This lack of tail also means that the worms are capable of redirecting its “excretory system” so that it can dispose of its metabolic waste.
Feature image: https://sharon-taxonomy2009-p2.wikispaces.com/Platyhelminthes
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