Researchers at MIT, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute have discovered it takes only a single cell to rebuild a fully functioning flatworm.
The cell in question is a pluripotent stem cell, and it is the first time these stem cells have been found in an adult animal. The researchers hope if they can understand how the cells work, they could find ways to use the cells for human tissue regeneration.
What interests the researchers so much, is the fact the stem cells found were pluripotent in a adult animal. Pluripotent stem cells differ from stem cells traditionally found in adult animal in that they have the ability to turn into any kind of cell. Adult stem cells usually have great specificity, skin stem cells can turn into skin, and blood stem cells can turn into blood, but nothing else. Currently, the only human pluripotent stem cells are embryonic stem cells.
Daniel Wagner, one of the lead researchers at MIT, in a news release said flatworms have solved the problem of regeneration. Their goal is to determine how it works.
“One day, we’ll examine what are the key differences between what’s possible in this animal and what’s possible in a mouse or a person,” Wagner said.
From a scientific perspective this is awesome. From a morally pessimistic perspective, this potentially opens up a bag of worms. If I cut off my finger, and can grow another me do I become doubly efficient?