Scientists have created mutant flatworms, which have other species’ brains and heads, it has recently been revealed on Tuesday, November 24.
The freakish creatures have been grown by experts at Tufts University, and the experiment has been detailed in a study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences.
The species that was manipulated by researchers was Girardia dorotocephala, a type of flatworm known for its regenerative ability.
Basically, the organism can build back entire body parts which have been removed, thus neutralizing virtually any attempts of amputation. This is because it has large concentrations of neoblasts (adult stem cells) which can take whichever shape or function might be necessary.
In the human body, such undifferentiated and easily adaptable cells are only encountered in the early stages of fetus development, and afterwards no transformations of this kind remain likely.
Researchers managed to grow heads pertaining to different species on these flatworms, while only maintaining their bodies. The achievement is particularly remarkable when taking into account that the flatworms’ genome hasn’t been changed.
This was made possible by modifying brain synapses, which allow information to be transmitted between neurons. Apparently, in the case of Girardia dorotocephala flatworms, DNA structure isn’t the only one that dictates appearance.
Instead, anatomy can also be changed just by manipulating brain circuits. In fact, conducting such alterations actually supersedes predispositions determined by DNA, according to senior study author Michael Levin.
When researchers stopped the flow of electrical signals between cells, it was possible to trigger unprecedented transformations when it came to the flatworms’ heads, and also at a much more complex level, by influencing brain morphology as well as the concentration of stem cells.
Naturally, it was much easier to provide Girardia dorotocephala flatworms with heads pertaining to species that they were related to, throughout the course of their evolution.
For example, while the organism normally has an angular head shape, featuring two auricles somewhat evocative of human ears, the hybrid worms had a much wider variety of morphological features.
Some of them had triangular-shaped heads just like those pertaining to Dugesia Japonica, others had massive necks and pointy ears similar to those of Philbertia Felina, while a few others became more like the round-headed Schmidtea Mediterranea.
On the other hand, it must be noted that the mutant species didn’t maintain this appearance indefinitely. Instead, after a few weeks, under the influence of their re-activated neuroblasts, they began switching back to their prior head shape, as if the experiment hadn’t even occurred.
Now, experts are preparing to conduct further research to determine why the change wasn’t permanent, and to gain further insight into this fascinating process.
According to them, explaining the way in which flatworms can develop different body structures following modifications suffered by their synapses might aid modern medicine in preventing birth defects, without having to resort to genetic engineering.
In addition, regenerative techniques through which tissues and organs can be replaced or restored might also be aided, just by analyzing the complex mechanisms through which flatworms have become so exceptionally skilled at re-building their own anatomical parts.
Image Source: Molecular Sciences Journal