What are hydras?
Scientists often take inspiration from nature to tackle problems facing human kind. The latest case of this is a study looking at Hydra vulgaris, a marine animal that is considered immortal! The tube-shaped creatures are one to three centimeters long. They reside in freshwater, hunting insect larvae and crustaceans with their stinging tentacles.
What makes hydras interesting is the fact they are continually replenishing cells all over their body, allowing the creatures to escape any disease or amputation and regenerate a new self after just a few days. This ability also means hydras can reproduce asexually–aka without a mate–pumping out offspring all by themselves.
How are they capable of this?
The study, published in Genome Biology and Evolution, looked to pin down the genes and interactions responsible for hydras‘ incredible regenerative powers. What makes this study different to previous attempts is the group’s focus on adjustments in gene expression. Through genetic analysis, they uncovered distinct differences in regulation between separate stages of the Hydra life cycle, giving clues to the key regulatory changes behind the regenerative process.
The team, led by Dr. Mortazavi, discovered a key controlling feature called ‘enhancers.’ “No person knew hydras had these enhancer areas,” stated Dr. Mortazavi. These important genetic elements tell the organism which genes need to be turned on and off and when influencing the volume of protein output from DNA.
Application of this incredible superpower
This exciting new realization has wide-spanning applications in the medical and biological fields. Scientists hope that studying animals that can regenerate lost body parts will bring us closer to harnessing this power in humans. Other animal parts, such as salamander tails and deer antlers, have also been in the spotlight for regenerative medicine. The aim is to crack the secret molecular mechanisms behind them, potentially allowing amputees in the future to regrow limbs from instructions already hidden inside our bodies.
Also, this research may be key in answering questions about biological development. Scientists only understand how a small portion of DNA works. As we gain more information about the power of regions such as enhancers, we will be able to piece together how the mysterious genome works. In turn, this will hopefully bring us closer to defeating the number of genetic diseases facing humans.
Source study: Genome Biology and Evolution – Coordinated Gene Expression and Chromatin Regulation during Hydra Head Regeneration