The regenerative power of flatworms — which can regrow into complete individuals after they've been cut into pieces — is well-known among scientists. But a group of flatworms that recently visited the International Space Station (ISS) had a few surprises to share when they returned to Earth.
Spacefaring worms also demonstrated a change in behavior. When both groups were introduced to illuminated "arenas" in petri dishes, the worms that went to space were less inclined to seek out the dish's darker portion, the scientists found.
But the most dramatic difference was a type of regeneration observed in one of the 15 worm fragments sent to the ISS. That worm returned to the scientists with two heads (one on each end of its body), a type of regeneration so rare as to be practically unheard of — "normal flatworms in water never do this," Levin told Live Science. When the researchers snipped both heads off back on Earth, the middle portion regenerated into a two-headed worm again.
At first glance, these tiny regenerating worms may not appear to share much in common with the human astronauts currently on board the ISS. But the worms offer valuable insights into how living in space can affect cells and microbial communities in organisms, which could help scientists understand the impacts of space travel on human bodies, Levin explained.
"Scientists know a lot about biochemical signals that allow cells to cooperate to build and repair a complex body. However, the physical forces involved in this process are not well-understood," he said.
Studying flatworms could offer insights into how biological systems in living creatures interact with gravity and the geomagnetic field, "which in turn will not only help us optimize future space travel, but will [also] shed light on basic mechanisms that will have implications for regenerative medicine therapies on Earth and in space," Levin added.
Original article on Live Science.