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January 30, 2020

Tissue Re-issue

There's a worm with a mighty unusual ability: it can regrow body parts to fix nearly every imaginable injury, including decapitation. New research findings about this creature with regenerative prowess could aid human tissue engineering methods.

Credit: National Science Foundation/Karson Productions

Tissue re-issue.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: America's got talent-type music, audience, golden buzzer-type sound) The Planarian flatworm really should be on the next "Worms Got Talent." I think it could take the whole thing.

Less than an inch long, this mostly unassuming freshwater worm with googly eyes has the amazing ability to recover from nearly any injury. It can quickly regrow any body part.

If it loses an eye it makes a new one. Head cut off? New head grows. And the severed head regenerates a body so now two worms. (Sound effect: superhero riff) Regeneration Superpower! But what stops the growth process, so the worm regenerates just the right amount of new tissue? How do they control "proportional scaling?"

Molecular biologists at Northwestern University have identified the beginnings of a genetic signaling pathway that applies the brakes. (Sound effect: cartoon skid) They discovered that a gene called mob4 suppresses tissue growth in the worms. When the researchers took the gene out of the mix, the worms grew to twice their normal size. The team found mob4 prevents descendants of stem cells from producing a protein that allows long distance communication between cells.

The findings could be important for creating new strategies for tissue engineering or promoting natural repair in humans.

(Sound effect: applause, cheers) That's a 'yes' for me.

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