Hydras – appropriately named after mythical Greek monsters – are one of nature's strangest creations. The tiny freshwater animal has been described by scientists as "immortal" because it is uncanny to regenerate perfectly from just a tiny body part. The researchers have now made the animals even stranger, forcing them to sprout fully functioning heads all over their bodies.
This is because scientists have finally regulated the regeneration of hydra heads – with potentially profound implications for cancer research.
19659002] The regeneration of body parts is an incredible feat that requires animals to reorganize their limbs member by member.
Although scientists held some pieces of the puzzle, it was important that the Wnt3 gene critical to head growth was a large knowledge gap.
A key area is the understanding of Hydra's "off" switch, for example, to prevent the growth of near-infinite heads.
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And the scientists at the University of Geneva seem to have discovered what they were looking for – the seemingly simple Sp5 gene capable of stopping an otherwise out-of-control feedback loop.  And to test their theory, the researchers developed Hydras to not express the Sp5 gene.
"In 100 percent of these animals you get extra heads, which is really amazing," said Professor Brigitte Galliota of the University of Geneva's Department of Genetics and Evolution.
What's going on, Professor Galliot and her colleagues today reported that the Wnt3 without Sp5 continues to sprout over the small body of the regenerating Hydra.
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And these heads are fully functional, meaning they have a nervous system, Tentacles and even a functioning mouth.
] The process, Professor Galliot said, is all about the balance between activation and repression.
And things get interesting there, because it seems that Wnt3 is not just for such simple creatures.
Wnt3 can also be found entirely x mammals, including humans.
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The gene seems to influence the embryonic development, ie, the understanding of it Function could help scientists understand what controls early human development.
Professor Galliot said Wnt3 is also a key driver of some cancers.
It may be that Sp5 manipulation could stop the spread of such cancers, she said.
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And although so the Medical research is still a long way off, and the tentacles of the Hydra could point the way.
She said, "What we learn from simple organisms like this tells us what kind of test we can better understand in mammals." It gives us a direction.
"The regeneration of the head depends on the transformation of the stump into a tissue called the head organization center, which has developmental properties, and, like an architect, guides the construction of the future head. "