Scientists altered the electrical synapses in the body instead of manipulating DNA
Gene is a specific region in DNA on which the development of a body depends upon. It carries the complete set of instructions about structure, function or life span of an organism. But now scientists have found the genetics not alone controls the development, other factors are also involved in the process.
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Without manipulating the DNA, biologists from Tufts University have succeeded in making one species of flatworm grow heads and brains of the flatworm of other species. They achieved the significant milestone by just altering the electrical synapses in the body that are found in all nervous systems.
“It is commonly thought that the sequence and structure of chromatin – material that makes up chromosomes – determine the shape of an organism, but these results show that the structure of that the function of physiological networks can override the species-specific default anatomy,” said senior author at Tufts.
“By modulating the connectivity of the cells via electrical synapses, we were able to derive head morphology and brain pattering belonging to a completely different species from an animal with a normal genome.”
Researchers selected Girardia dorotocephala, for the experiment. G. dorotocephala, also known as planaria is a little flatworm which has the unique ability to grow lost body parts. The development of head shapes of different species was made possible when they manipulated the protein channels that control communication between cells. The closer the two species were linked, the easier it was to demonstrate the changes.
Changes were not superficial. Researchers were not only able to change the shape of head but changed the shape of the brain as well.
But the shape change turned out to be temporary and weeks after the planaria, who completed the regeneration to other species head, regained its original head morphology. Researchers are unable to find why that happened.
These findings suggest that genes and bioeletrical networks coordinate with each other when it comes to building complex body structures. If scientists are able to identify how exactly the shape can be established, the knowledge could be used to fix birth defects and for growing new biological structures after an injury.
"We've demonstrated that the electrical connections between cells provide important information for species-specific patterning of the head during regeneration in planarian flatworms," explains lead author and Tufts undergraduate Maya Emmons- Bell.
"This kind of information will be crucial for advances in regenerative medicine, as well as a better understanding of evolutionary biology. As an undergraduate, it's been an extraordinary experience to conduct and author important research with leading biologists."
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