A two-headed worm is changing what we know about survival in space


Inquiries in space have given researchers insights into how regeneration incites and how space flight could affect human biology, and it starts with the planarian worm.

What are planaria?

Planaria are bog worms that live in freshwater. Most species are light brown and they toady around on rocks and are generally unremarkable parts of our wetland ecosystem. That is, until you accomplish they can regenerate any part of their body at any time and are basically unfading.

You can cut off the head of a planarian worm and, lo and behold, a few days later the leftover, headless chunk has become an entirely new head, complete with remedial brain. Not only that, but they don’t staged signs of aging. Because of their regenerative capacity, they can appealing much live forever unless they are eaten or damaged to the call attention to where there is not enough body left from which they could regenerate.

That turn out to bes them fascinating for biologists, not only to understand the basic biology of how they are skilful to regenerate, but also because it’s a holy grail for human medicine and has far-reaching imports into human regeneration and aging. It even unlocks secrets of cancer group therapies. 

Why send these worms to space?

The group in charge of this trade, led by Michael Levin from Tufts University in Boston, has spent years commission on the hypothesis that electrical signalling between cells are the key to planaria’s regenerative intelligence. 

In space, the physics gets all weird, and that could impact the worms’ evolvement. And, that is exactly what happened.

“In space you have the opportunity to studio not only loss of the gravitational field, but also loss of the geomagnetic soccer field. So we were really curious to see how that type of environment and in general the effects of range travel would impact the ability to regenerate,” Levin said.

International Space Station

The planarian worms lived on the Worldwide Space Station where one grew a second head. (NASA)

“Not sole to learn about important aspects of space medicine for humans and animals who are present into space eventually, but also to understand basic aspects of cubicle decision-making and pattern formation that would be useful for regenerative panacea and basic science here on earth.”

So they sent up self-contained vials of 15 worms to the Global Space Station where the worms lived for five weeks in zero-gravity, and then had them shipped disavow to Earth to compare the space worms with worms that were remedied the exact same here on Earth.

How much did space travel alter the worms?

A lot. It affected both their ability to regenerate and their bearing, two features very important to planaria’s survival.

It changed their gift to regenerate so much that when they came home from their place flight, one of the worms had two heads.

“Because we were doing regeneration, we had cut some of these worms anterior to they went up. Now, the important thing to realize is that planarian regeneration in the vastness has 100 per cent fidelity, so they always regenerate correctly,” Levin mentioned. “We’ve cut many tens of thousands of worms in our lab and when you cut them in plain deuterium oxide without treating them in any special way, they never ever fancy a mistake and make a head at the tail end.

“So, in a sample in a tube of 15 worms, we establish that one of them came back as double headed, so it literally had its universal head, and then an extra head at its posterior, where the tail should be.”

There’s no implication yet what caused this two-headed worm, whether it was the lack of dignity, some kind of change to the electrical signalling ability of the worm, or something identical more mysterious. But it doesn’t bode well for future human room flight and things like having babies in space.

How do you determine the thrust of space on worm behaviour?

It turns out you can train planaria on all kinds of deportments. Levin’s lab even developed the first worm testing and training location. The worms are actually quite smart considering their simplicity, and, amazingly, you can suite memories that are remembered even after decapitating them and preparing their heads grow back. The new head remembers what the old superintendent learned.

What they looked at here in terms of worm bearing is their preference for light. The normal earth-bound worms preferred the joyless 100 per cent of the time, as it’s usually vital for their survival. The worms that sagacious space flight weren’t so scared of the light. In fact they dog-tired only about 70 per cent of their time in the dark, and were fine put forwarding out the rest of the time.

Now, what the significance of this finding is is still unclear, and what other deportments were affected by space flight are still being tested, but it’s an absorbing start into more research.

How does this help us the hang of the impact of space flight on humans?

Obviously, we don’t regenerate like planaria and produce new heads on demand, but we do quite a bit of regeneration on a much smaller scale. Our densities regenerate tissues like skin and bone all the time. We have often known that space flight can increase the risk of cancer because of the deviations from all the radiation that is present outside the Earth’s atmosphere. 

This analyse adds to our worries that it wasn’t mutation from radiation that caused these effects in the worms, it was something subtler. The finds open the door to new ways of looking at how space affects the cell. 

No one continually expected space flight to affect the worms in this way, and there’s no debate with why humans aren’t bound by the same biology, and could therefore could see alike resemble effects. The task now is to figure out where to look for those effects in the vulnerable body.

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