A group of KSC students are getting closer every day to understanding the complex process involved in the regeneration of planarians, or flatworms.
Flatworms are small organisms that are a part of many aquatic ecosystems. They are known for their uncanny ability to regenerate any part of their body once it has been cut off.
This year, a group of students have been running tests on these worms to see what genes are involved in this regeneration process. Associate Professor of Biology, Jason Pellettieri, along with a group of nearly 15 students were given a $416,000 grant from the National Institute of Health for the project.
Mahad Ahmad, a sophomore biology major working on a similar project with the same flatworms, said, “We are trying to uncover the genetic pathway the causes them to regenerate.”
Through using a set of techniques to turn certain genes on and off, the students are able to tell which ones aid in the regeneration process.
The students then cut off parts of the worm once a gene has been isolated and see if the worm regenerates. This process usually takes a week for the worm to be fully back to its normal grain of rice sized self.
“There’s a lot of questions about regeneration and you know planarians have been studied for a very long time.. But it’s only recently that people have started getting into the modern molecular biology and studying all the genes and the biochemistry and how this stuff works,” Pelletteri said. “There’s a lot of unanswered questions and there’s a lot we have to learn.”
Haley Zanga, a senior biology major said, “Regeneration is super important for anything. You know if people get their arm chopped off or whatever it won’t grow back, but for a worm if you cut it up every piece grows back. So if we can potentially uncover the mechanism of how they regenerate, it can be important for other scientific problems or medial problems.”
“Because we are trying to identify the genetic pathway, it can be applicable to not only to planarians it’s also applicable to any other genetic pathway,” Ahmad said.
The research being done is this lab is preliminary, said Pelletteri. It is the beginning steps to understanding how these organisms regenerate and will create a building block to sciences understanding of regeneration as a whole.
The purpose of this specific project is to be a model for what can be understood from these creatures, Pellettieri said, so that someday we might be able to apply this knowledge to modern day medicine and scientific understanding into how different genes play different roles in the body.
Alyssa Salerno can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org