Cell regeneration sure does behave differently in space, case in point is an amputee worm which grew two heads while in outer space. This behavior will help scientists further analyze how microgravity can influence cell regeneration and will be vital in the field of regenerative health science.
Flatworms are known for its regenerative capabilities. They can regrow even after being cut into pieces. But one surprising development was discovered when an amputated specimen was sent to the International Space Station (ISS). During its stay aboard the space station, it managed to grow two heads.
The species used was the Planarian flatworms, according to Live Science. They are relatively flat and small at only about 0.2 inches (0.5 centimeters) to 0.4 inches (1 centimeter). The experiment was performed to study how space, fluctuations in the geomagnetic field and microgravity will influence the regenerative process common among flatworms. The study will also help researchers understand how outer space can influence cell activity.
The specimen sent to the ISS was compared to amputee specimens here on Earth. But according to the authors including Michael Levin, a professor at the Tufts University in Massachusetts, the most notable difference is that the space worm grew a second head.
Amputated Space Worms for Five Weeks
The authors say that flatworms indeed have the capability to divide to form two different individuals if exposed to the right environment. They also believe that amputated flatworms can also grow another head and tail, which is largely dependent on where the cut was performed.
The sample amputated worm was sent to the ISS and spent spent five weeks there. Scientists and researchers used this method to observe how the Earth’s magnetic field will affect flatworm’s regenerative feature. During the experiment, the amputated worm that grew two heads was sealed in a tube with the supply of air and water. The changes were observed after the specimen completed its journey back to Earth. The experiment is deemed as an important step in the regenerative health science and future space explorations.
Return of the Two-headed Space Worm
The researchers continued to observe the space worm after it has returned to Earth to see if the effect of microgravity is long term. The amputated worm that grew two heads also shows significant metabolic changes while in space. This is the reason why it tends to exhibit “water shock” when exposed to water.
“As humans transition toward becoming a space-faring species, it is important that we deduce the impact of space flight on regenerative health for the sake of medicine and the future of space laboratory research,” Junji Morokuma, lead author of the study said in an interview.