An extraordinary discovery in the Gulf of Eilat: Researchers at Tel Aviv University have discovered a species of sea squirt, a marine animal commonly found in the Gulf of Eilat, capable of regenerating all of its organs – even if it is dissected into three fragments. The study was led by Prof. Noa Shenkar, Prof. Dorothee Huchon-Pupko and Tal Gordon from the Tel Aviv University School of Zoology at the George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences and the Museum of natural history Steinhardt. The results of this surprising discovery have been published in the leading journal Frontiers in Cellular and Developmental Biology.
“This is an amazing find, because it is an animal that belongs to the Phylum Chordata – animals with a dorsal cord – which also includes humans,” says Professor Noa Shenkar. “The ability to regenerate organs is common in the animal kingdom, and even among chords you can find animals that regenerate organs, like the gecko which is able to grow a new tail. But not entire body systems. Here we have found a chord that can regenerate all of its organs even if it is split into three pieces, each piece knowing exactly how to get all of its missing body systems back to work in a short period of time. “
There are hundreds of species of ascidians and they are found in all the oceans and seas of the world. Anyone who has ever opened their eyes underwater has seen sea squirts without knowing it, as they often camouflage themselves as bumps on rocks and are therefore difficult to discern. The animal that is the subject of this new study is an ascidian of the species Polycarpa mytiligera, which is very common in the coral reefs of Eilat.
“Obviously, the sea squirt is a simple organism, with two openings in its body: an entrance and an exit,” says Tal Gordon, whose doctoral thesis included this new research. “Inside the body there is a central organ that looks like a pasta strainer. The sea squirt sucks water through the entry point of the body, the colander filters out any food particles that remain in the body, and clean water comes out through the exit point. Among invertebrates, they are considered to be the closest to humans from an evolutionary point of view. “
Sea squirts are renowned for their regenerative ability, but so far these abilities have been identified primarily in asexual reproduction. Never before has such a high regenerative capacity been detected in a string animal that reproduces only by sexual reproduction.
“There are species of ascidians that do simple regeneration in order to reproduce,” says Gordon. “They are a colonial way of life, with many identical individuals connected to each other. They reproduce to grow. In contrast, the Eilat sea squirt, Polycarpa mytiligera, is an organism with a solitary lifestyle, without the capacity for asexual reproduction, similar to humans. In previous studies, we have shown that this species is able to regenerate its digestive system and entry and exit points in a matter of days. But then we wanted to see if he is able to renew all his bodily systems. We took a few individual ascidians from Eilat and dissected them into two parts, which were able to piece together the deleted sections without any issues. In a later experiment, we dissected several dozen ascidians into three fragments, leaving part of the body without a nerve center, heart, and part of the digestive system. And contrary to our expectations, not only did each part survive the dissection alone, but all organs were regenerated in each of the three sections. Instead of one sea squirt, there were now three. It is very astonishing. Never before has such a capacity for regeneration been discovered in a solitary species that reproduces sexually, all over the world. “
Professor Shenkar concludes, “Since the dawn of humanity, humans have been fascinated with the ability to regenerate damaged or missing organs. Regeneration is a wonderful ability that we have, to a very limited extent, and we would like to understand. how it works. in order to try and apply it in our own body. Anyone snorkeling in the Gulf of Eilat may find this ascidian intriguing, which may be able to help us understand the renewal processes tissues that can help the human race. “
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