Worms are being sent up into space and researchers at Tufts University revealed some bizarre things that happened with the creatures. One amputated worm was launched into space and grew two heads. After the heads were removed by researchers, it grew two more. That wasn’t the only strange thing they observed. The whole worms started doing odd things that they had never done before. One example is that some of them began spontaneously splitting into two.
According to CNET, both whole and amputated planarium flatworms were put on a SpaceX rocket and were sealed in tubes, half filled with water, and the other half containing air. These types of worms are often used in biological research due to their regenerative abilities. It also helps scientists determine the future of space travel. In this particular study, worms were sent to the International Space Station for five weeks. Once they returned to Earth, they were observed for an additional 20 months.
As with any reputable study, there were control subjects. In this case, researchers had two sets of “control” flatworms. One set was submerged in spring water and kept in the dark at 20 degrees Celcius for five weeks. This would mimic what the space worms were going through. The second set of control subjects were just placed in temperatures similar to what the space worms endured. They compared the control worms with the flatworms that were sent to space. Conducting several different types of tests, there were a lot of differences.
One amputated flatworm managed to grow two new heads. According to the article, a double-headed specimen is rare. In fact, it is so rare that Tufts University researchers said they have never seen it happen before. The scientists have a combined 18 years of experience in maintaining flatworm colonies. To really understand how bizarre this is, that amounts to more than 15,000 planarium flatworms.
This flatworm fragment went to space—and then became a double-headed worm.https://t.co/LulMXdfUdb— Smithsonian Magazine (@SmithsonianMag) June 14, 2017
However, what happened next would really baffle the researchers, according to Fox News. They took the flatworm and cut off the regenerated twin heads. To their surprise, the worm grew two additional heads from the middle section of its body. That’s right, it not only regenerated its amputated body part, but replaced it with a twin head… twice.
The only explanation is that when the flatworms went into space, their body reprogrammed itself. Why it felt the need to regenerate twice as many heads as before is unknown. What researchers believe is that the reprogramming is permanent because the twin head regeneration happened not just once, but twice. However, that is not the only baffling thing that happened to the space worms.
Whole worms were also sent up to space and they also seem to have gone through some reprogramming. No, they didn’t grow any more heads, but they did spontaneously split into two or more copies of itself. It is called spontaneous fission. Researchers speculate that the splitting is a result of the temperature changes in space, which are much more extreme than here on Earth.
There were also other differences. After returning to Earth, the space worms were not moving and seemed to be partially paralyzed. However, after approximately two hours, they began behaving normally again. It is theorized that the worms altered their biological chemistry to sustain the drastically different environment in space. They also reacted differently to light and researchers noted the bacterial communities, secretion, and metabolism were not the same. Going into space didn’t just affect their regenerational abilities and programming, it altered the worms’ chemistry, too.
Junji Morokuma, lead author of the study issued a statement on the purpose the sending worms to space, which was posted to the university’s website.
“As humans transition toward becoming a space-faring species, it is important that we deduce the impact of space flight on regenerative health for the sake of medicine and the future of space laboratory research.”
Michael Levin, Ph.D., Vannevar Bush professor of biology and the director of the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology explained how the study will help human beings.
“During regeneration, development, and cancer suppression, body patterning is subject to the influence of physical forces, such as electric fields, magnetic fields, electromagnetic fields, and other biophysical factors. We want to learn more about how these forces affect anatomy, behavior, and microbiology.”
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