News & Opinion | March 25, 2019 5:00 am

Scientists Learn How Worms Regenerate Even Once Chopped Up

Researchers have discovered the master control gene responsible for that regrowth.

(Getty Images)
Getty Images

You know you’ve done it: Taken an earthworm and cut it in half and watched as both sides continue to squirm. Afterwards, the side of the worm that has a brain will typically grow back into a full worm. But how?

According to The New York Times, scientists have now figured out the master control gene responsible for that regrowth in one particular type of worm. Mansi Srivastava, a professor of organismic and evolutionary biology at Harvard University, and her co-authors published a paper that studies “full-body regeneration.” In it, they discuss the three-banded panther worm, which you can cut in halves or thirds and each segment will regenerate just fine.

A master control gene called E.G.R., or early growth response, is present in many organisms, including humans. Before this study, scientists suspected this is what helped regenerate the three-banded panther worm. Now, the researchers proved it, by sequencing the subjects’ entire genome.

So if humans also have the E.G.R. gene, can we use that ability to heal after wounds?

“The way biomedical research is going, it will probably happen,” said Srivastava to The Times. “I just don’t think it will happen in the next 10 years.”