Scientists want to know why some fauna, like some species of the humble jellyfish, can regenerate their whole bodies following an injury. In a paper published last Friday, a team at Harvard have made some breakthroughs.
With three-banded panther worms as their test subjects, Harvard's Assistant Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology Mansi Srivastava and her team discovered a master control gene that's activated by noncoding DNA, according to the Harvard Gazette.
The control gene is called EGR for early growth response. Once activated, it turns on genes that correlate to regeneration, according to Andrew Gehrke, a postdoctoral fellow in Srivastava's team.
"What we found is that this one master gene comes on [and activates] genes that are turning on during regeneration," Gehrke explained to the publication. "Basically, what's going on is the noncoding regions are telling the coding regions to turn on or off, so a good way to think of it is as though they are switches."
Once the process is activated, the panther worms' genome physically open up to facilitate regeneration. Establishing how the genome manipulates itself for regeneration is "one of the big findings in this paper," Gehrke said.
Unfortunately, the discovery won't lead to humans being able to regenerate their limbs Deadpool style. Although humans also have EGR, the team said, our wiring is much different to creatures like the panther worm.