Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Head to Space; heads come back!

 (Photo Credit: Junji Morokuma, Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University)

If I were to take this story and run with it there are so many directions I might go. Funny thing is, everyone would say I’d stopped writing hard science fiction and gone for fantasy.

Still – this topic caught me off guard and so I had to share it with you!


So here goes with just the facts…

In January of 2015 some planarian (planarian refers to the genus) flatworms were placed in tubes which contained half water and the other half, air. (generally planarians are marine though some are terrestrial) The flatworms were launched to the ISS, thanks to SpaceX, but with some slight changes to them. Half of the flatworms had parts of their body sliced off. That is not a big a problem as one might think as flatworms do usually have the capacity to regenerate their bodies. 

An equal group of planarian flatworms with the same disabilities enacted were left here on Earth.

Fast forward to six weeks later (the worms were returned in 5 weeks but…) and while there were other results, the coolest or oddest result – depends how you look at things, was that one of the worms that had been decapitated had yes, regenerated his head but on each end. In other words yes his head had been removed and in 5 short weeks he had grown two more to replace it. AND when those two heads were then sliced off, both grew again indicating that the enhanced regeneration was permanent. 


Other changes? The space-worms now underwent some odd sort of fission where the split their bodies in two which would make each one create another identical worm. Another change of interest? As previously mentioned, flatworms or planarians are mostly marine – either salt or fresh water. The space-traveling flatworms when put in spring water post space became partially paralyzed/immobile and it took about two hours before they returned to normal.

The worms that stayed home did not undergo any similar changes.

Granted finding the double-headed mutation was kinda cool, but the point of the study was to see if the worm’s regeneration patterns were changed in space.

There are many tests I would plan next and I am sure that they have. Such as now send up something that doesn’t regenerate under the same circumstances (amputated heads etc.) and see what happens? Do they now regenerate (that might be a neat side effect!) or does whatever special trait they have - get changed/more intense perhaps?

You see where I’m going right? This takes on an almost comic book origin story…or the beginning of a fantastic journey!

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