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Restarting Regeneration One Step at a Time

Planarians may be lowly flatworms, but the tiny crawlers possess powers that even superheroes would envy. Cut off the worm’s head or tail, and a new one sprouts to replace it. In the flatworm’s body, nerves, muscles, connective tissues, and whole organs regenerate when damaged or removed.

“These animals can regrow virtually everything lost to amputation,” says Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at the University of Utah.

Every day, the human body replaces an estimated 10 billion cells lost to injury or ordinary cellular housekeeping. More dramatically, salamanders, flatworms, and hydra, among other organisms, grow entirely new body parts when these are lost to injury or amputation. Scientists have marveled at such regenerative skills for centuries, but lack of good model organisms and effective techniques has managed to keep regeneration a biological mystery.
 
 

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