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Flatworms Growing Heads and Brains of Other Species

Nov 24, 2015 05:52 PM EST
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Flatworms by themselves are fairly, well, flat. They lack most features. But flatworms that scientists have induced to grow heads and brains like those of other species of flatworm--without changing the genomic sequence--those are multi-dimensional and also weird, we'd say. 

Researchers at Tufts University recently achieved this Franken-flatworm feat, and they say that the work shows the circuits of physiology as a new type of epigenics; that is, the information that exists separate from the genomic sequence. As such, they are another part determining large-scale anatomy, according to a release.

More clearly, head shape is not necessarily determined by the genome, say the researchers in their study--it can instead be put into place by manipulating the body's electrical synapses. In this way, then, species could be guided by bioelectrical networks.

Knowing that, the team says, could improve our knowledge of birth defects and how to regenerate systems using a new pathway to control the formation of complex patterns. While it's been known that networks of neurons use bioelectric synapses to hold onto and re-configure information in the brain, the researchers say in a release that the recent finding is new.

They published their report recently in International Journal of Molecular Sciences.

"By modulating the connectivity of cells via electrical synapses, we were able to derive head morphology and brain patterning belonging to a completely different species from an animal with a normal genome," said Michael Levin at Tufts, a senior author of the paper, in the release.

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