These sea slugs separate their own heads and regenerate new bodies Science & Tech News



Starfish can regenerate their arms, salamanders can grow new tails, and axolotls can regenerate their spinal cord – but scientists have found sea slugs that can grow a whole new body.

The researchers discovered two types of sea snails that can grow bodies with hearts and other internal organs while watching them for other studies.

One of the creatures moved once without a body, and another did the same thing twice.

The head moved on its own immediately after it was separated from the body – and within a few days the wound on the back of the head had closed, according to the study, which was published in the journal Current Biology.

According to the report, the heads of young sea slugs fed within hours of shedding algae and began to regenerate a heart within a week, while the heads of older people died within about 10 days.

Researchers at Nara Women’s University in Japan found that within three weeks, a new body with all organs was formed through the severed head.

The discarded bodies did not regenerate the lost body part in either the juvenile or old sea slugs, but they were observed to move and respond to touch for several days or even months.

Undated flyer photo issued by Nara Women's University for the head and body of Elysia cf maginata, one day after the autotomy. Some animals can regenerate a tail or limb, but researchers have now discovered two types of sea slugs that can grow a whole new body with a heart and other internal organs. Scientists made the discovery while observing the animals for other studies. Image: PA
One of the creatures moved without its body

Sayaka Mitoh, from the university’s Department of Life Sciences, said, “We were surprised to see the head move shortly after the autotomy.

“We thought that it would soon die without a heart and other vital organs, but we were again surprised that it regenerated the whole body.”

Scientists aren’t sure what causes the sea slugs to separate their bodies, but one way is to remove internal parasites that are preventing them from reproducing.

The work has not figured out what allows the snails to form new parts, but it is believed that there are stem-like cells at the cut end of the neck that can grow back.

The marine slugs in question were already unique in that they incorporated chloroplasts into their own bodies from the algae that they eat, a habit known as kleptoplasty.


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