Whether you’ve seen the documentaries on geckos self-severing (autotomy) their tails and regrowing them a month later, or starfish regenerating several limbs, or perhaps you’ve seen Piccolo from Dragon Ball Z getting a brand new arm minutes after his old one got blasted off, you must be familiar with the biological process of regeneration.
Unfortunately for us Homo sapien sapiens, if we lose a limb, it doesn’t grow back. However, for our underwater friends Mnemiopsis leidyi, a species of comb jellyfish, regeneration is a pretty standard ability. However, their regeneration comes in two, pretty different forms.
A recent study published in Nature by an international team of biologists explains that the mechanism of regeneration in these jellyfish can be changed depending on their environmental conditions.
“Apparently, the comb jellyfish larvae are able to activate two fundamentally different regeneration processes, depending on the external circumstances,” explains Dr. Javidpour from GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, and co-author of the study. “If the circumstances are not good enough for a complete cure, then at least it can save their own survival with a simpler process.”
Comb jellyfish larvae that lived in a nutrient-rich environment were able to restore their bodies in their entirety. Larvae that had to live with less nutrients also survived and were able to heal their injuries, but were unable to fully regenerate their bodies.
“In the pumping operations, the jellyfish are mechanically heavily stressed. A flexible self-regenerating process can be an advantage. However, this aspect has hardly been considered so far,” adds Katharina Bading, PhD student at NTNU, Norway.
“Apart from that, the discovery is fundamentally interesting in terms of how self-regenerating traits work in nature, and whether we can ultimately learn something from it for human medicine,” said Dr. Javidpour.
With recent (but controversial) advances in CRISPR technology and other bio-engineering techniques, the potential for limb regeneration in humans becomes more likely. Though I doubt it will be anything like Piccolo.