A brand new self-healing strategy discovered in moon jellyfish has taken the scientific community by storm.
The research on the moon jellyfish was conducted at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and it has essentially pointed out how the juvenile stage of this species can heal itself through a very interesting strategy. When one or many more of its eight limbs are severed, it does not regrow them, as it seems that is not the most important factor in its development.
In order to mature successfully to the nest evolutionary stage, it is crucial that the juvenile stage be symmetrical. And regrowing a limb takes quite some time. Therefore the juvenile moon jellyfish simply rearranges its remaining limbs, in order to reach radial symmetry as soon as possible. Then, it simply continues its existence with fewer limbs.
The juvenile stage of the Aurelia aurita, the moon jellyfish that constituted the object of this study is called an ephyrae and it normally has eight legs. In their experiments, the Caltech research team have severed one to seven limbs of the ephyrae, while they were anesthetized.
And naturally, the number of limbs that were cut off greatly affected the development of the adult. If an Aurelia with one or two limbs severed as an ephyra is perfectly capable of leading a normal life, the same cannot be said about an Aurelia that has lost seven limbs as a juvenile. These specimens develop significant disabilities and are not able to survive in the wild, due the multitude of predators.
This type of injury is extremely common among jellyfish, as one of their most important predator is the sea turtle. They get bitten extremely often and they need to adapt in order to survive. Scientific data reveals that up to one third of jellyfish have lesions at any given time.
“Some animals just heal their wounds, other animals regenerate what is lost, but the moon jelly ephyrae [juveniles] don’t regenerate their lost limbs. They heal the wound, but then they reorganize to regain symmetry.” says Lea Goentoro, assistant professor of Biology at Caltech and the leader of the project.
The study has also revealed that the ephyrae are able to rearrange their limbs in order to regain their radial symmetry, through the complex muscle contractions that they are capable of doing. In order to demonstrate that this type of movement is the baseline of their self-healing strategy, the research team has treated the ephyrae with powerful muscle relaxants in order to prevent them from moving. When the ephyrae were unable to move and rearrange themselves, they were not able to achieve radial symmetry.
This research represents a significant breakthrough in the world of science, not only because we are now able to understand jellyfish physiology to a much larger extent, but because this type of self-healing strategy could one day be applied in an invention that could benefit man. The entire study has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on June 15th, 2015.
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