As if ripped from the pages of classic sci-fi
November 25, 2015 1:22 PM   Subscribe

Epigenetic Signaling Induces Species-Specific Head and Brain Growth in Flatworms Scientists have succeeded in inducing one species of flatworm to grow heads and brains characteristic of another species of flatworm, without altering genomic sequence.
posted by Michele in California (12 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Weeks after the planaria completed regeneration to the other species' head shapes, the worms once again began remodeling and re-acquired their original head morphology.

This is pretty much the way I feel at the end of every semester.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:43 PM on November 25, 2015 [14 favorites]

Info I did not have when I made the post that might interest some of the more serious minded science-y types:

posted by Michele in California at 1:48 PM on November 25, 2015

posted by Halloween Jack at 1:53 PM on November 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

I regularly attend the lab group meetings of Professor Levin. I see amazing stuff like this almost every week. His group is challenging some paradigms held (too) dear by many developmental biologists.
posted by haiku warrior at 2:48 PM on November 25, 2015 [5 favorites]

It's Rosie Grier's world, we're just living in it.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 2:56 PM on November 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Do formerly big headed flatworms remember their glory days?
posted by srboisvert at 3:07 PM on November 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Mind = Blown

(but in what form will it regenerate??)
posted by Kabanos at 3:09 PM on November 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Next stop, Hollywoo!
posted by Sys Rq at 3:53 PM on November 25, 2015 [4 favorites]

Flatworms for Algernon.

This is very freaky, but also makes a lot of sense once you've got your (strange big) head around it. if you consider the whole business of morphology of an organism, you can make an analogy with the classic layering of computer software, from physical to application, where changes at any layer can produce radically different outcomes that are nonetheless dependant upon the other layers. Such analogies are always crude and, well, wrong, but in terms of complex engineered systems mostly concerned with pragmatic outcomes it's probably the best we have right now.
posted by Devonian at 4:44 PM on November 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

This sounds like an experimental tour de force and there's a ton of science learned there.

In some ways I don't think the headline is as fundamentally surprising as it might sound though--genes work through the ways they are expressed, so changing the expression will of course change the organism. To use the software analogy, if you don't change the source code but you change the compiler and you'll get the program to perform different operations on execution.
Interestingly, the ease with which a particular shape could be generated from a G. dorotocephala worm was proportional to the proximity of the target worm on the evolutionary timeline, i.e., the closer the two species were related, the easier it was to effect the change.
This is exactly what you'd hope if you believe in evolution. The closest species need relatively few "steps" to get from one to another, even if the morphology difference is big. It's actually really cool to be able to confirm that with a clear example in mechanistic detail. And clear example that when people say the theory of evolution doesn't make "predictions" they are wrong about that, too.
posted by mark k at 7:13 PM on November 25, 2015 [5 favorites]

The classic scifi book being Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson.
posted by lalunamel at 5:57 AM on November 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

lalunamel - I just read that section, just as they are seeding and surveying! Context for science articles!
posted by Snowishberlin at 6:46 PM on November 27, 2015

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