Planarian worms can regenerate new body parts (well, I know they don’t look like “parts” but you get what I mean). How do they do this? No one was quite sure until now.

An MIT research team led by Peter Reddien has discovered a gene that apparently produces a product that facilitates this sort of regeneration.

“Evolution has selected for mechanisms that allow organisms to accomplish incredible feats of regeneration,” and planaria offer a dramatic example, Reddien said. “By developing this model system to explore the molecular underpinnings of regeneration, we now have a better understanding of … the process.”

“We discovered that inhibiting the gene Smed-beta-catenin-1 caused animals to regenerate a head instead of a tail at the site of the wound,” said Christian Petersen, Whitehead postdoctoral fellow and lead author on the paper. “This resulted in a worm that possessed two oppositely facing heads. Smed-beta-catenin-1 is the first gene found to be required for this regeneration polarity.”

Genes very similar to Smed-beta-catenin-1 are found in animals ranging from jellyfish to humans, and they have been implicated in posterior tissue specification in frogs, sea urchins and many other animals.

Read the rest here.