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Experiments with worms could to regenerating human limbs, doctors say

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
February 7th, 2014
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

German scientists are intensely studying the property founding the planarian worm, which is able to regrow its own head after it's been cut off. Some suggest research in this field will at one point be used in order for humans to regrow their OWN limbs, following disease or injury.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic online) - Work undertaken at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden has discovered a molecular switch that controls the passing of information between cells. The flatworm, they say, was able to regenerate its own head after switching this biological mechanism off.
 
The molecular switch found in the Dendrocoelum lacteum flatworm controls the passing of information between cells.

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Not only that, the scientists also recently discovered that in addition to regrowing its head, the planarian worm regenerated the same memories that were stored in the decapitated one.

Researchers from Tufts University in Boston tested the memory of the planarian worms by measuring how long it took them to reach food in a lab environment.

The worms had been trained to disregard the bright lights in the lab so they could find their meals without being distracted. Most amazingly, scientists found that even after decapitation, worms remembered this training.

"The rabbit can't do it, neither can a frog, but zebra fish and axolotls can and flatworms are true masters of the craft," Research group leader Dr. Jochen Rink said.
 
"Why some animals can re-grow lost body parts or organs while others cannot remains a big mystery."

By understanding how to activate this ability in worms, scientists could one day use a similar switch to activate it in species that can't traditionally regenerate - such as humans.

"We are now one step further in understanding the factors that regulate regeneration after discovering a crucial molecular switch in the flatworm Dendrocoelum lacteum that decides whether a lost head can be regenerated or not," Dr. Rink added.

"And what is even more spectacular is that we manipulated the genetic circuitry of the worm in such a way as to fully restore its regeneration potential."

The planarian worm is well known because of its excellent regenerative abilities. If this species of worm is cut into 200 pieces, 200 new worms will regenerate, for example.

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