Flatworms Can Grow the Heads and Brains of Different Species


“Before I go, I just want to say you were fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. And you know what? So was I!” -flatworm, before growing a different head

Flatworms, being worms and all, are probably not your number one favorite things to read about in the mornings. However, according to a new, interesting study performed by very talented scientists over at Tufts University, these flatworms can grow the heads and brains of different species.

Yes, according to the study. These tiny little flat critters can, if prompted, grow back the heads and brains of other flatworm species. The scientists used individuals belonging to the Girardia dorotocephala species of flatworms, which have become known as Frankenworms because of their impressive abilities.

It was known before, that an individual of the species can, if cut in half, regenerate as two worms, on from the tail up, and one from the head down.

One of the most interesting and unexpected parts of the study was the fact that the scientists did not have the creature regenerate into the different head by altering its DNA. What they did was alter the proteins that handled the communication between the creatures’ cells.

This led the scientists to conclude that chromosomes are not the ones to determine the aspect or shape of the species, but instead the physiological networks communicate and override the individual’s default anatomy.

Containing a large number of neoblasts, the stem cells we humans only have as babies, the newly regenerated worm will, in a matter of weeks, revert back to its original form. However, tests are still being performed to see if the newly formed worm can be kept in its new shape, as the coordinator of the study has in the past succeeded to hybridize a flatworm with two head, which the creature kept.

The scientists also claimed that it was quite difficult to anticipate what species of worm will grow out of the old one, and that species closer on the evolutionary scale were a lot easier to achieve than more distant ones.

The study is very important to the better understanding of evolutionary biology, as well as a huge step in the right direction for the study of regenerative medicine.

The neoblasts, the stem cells the worms possess, can basically take the shape and function of any other cell in the body. Us humans also possess them in our embryonic state, and huge movements have been active for years, requesting the legalization of stem cell research.

However, as the cells can only be obtained from embryos, the practice is still illegal, postponing indeterminately the research into human regeneration.

Image source: www.wikimedia.org