The University of Washington examines the acorn worm, a creature with a genetic makeup similar to ours and with the capacity of regrowing any major part that is cut off, including head, heart, and brain. If researchers are able to determine the mechanism that causes this, it could mean the ability for humans to "regrow an amputated arm or leg, or completely restore nervous system function after a spinal cord injury."
“I really think we as humans have the potential to regenerate, but something isn’t allowing that to happen,” Swalla said. “I believe humans have these same genes, and if we can figure out how to turn on these genes, we can regenerate.”
Regeneration is common in many animal lineages, though among the vertebrates (which includes humans) it is most robust in amphibians and fish. Humans can regrow parts of organs and skin cells to some degree, but we have lost the ability to regenerate complete body parts.
Scientists suspect several reasons for this: Our immune systems — in a frenzy to staunch bleeding or prevent infection — might inhibit regeneration by creating impenetrable scar tissue over wounds, or perhaps our relatively large size compared with other animals might make regeneration too energy intensive. Replacing a limb might not be cost-effective, from an energy perspective, if we can adapt to using nine fingers instead of 10 or one arm instead of two.
The article uses this interesting line to explain how the worm works:
Imagine if you cut a person in half at the waist, the bottom half would grow a new head and the top half would grow new legs.
Imagine that: another person, identical to you, grown from your severed legs. It's all in theory, of course, but it does raise some interesting questions. Would they have your memories? Or would they be a brand new person with no experiences and needing to learn everything from scratch? I'm guessing the latter.
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