If a flatworm loses its head, it can regenerate the lost body part, complete with a functioning brain and eyes. How does that work? In simple terms, the flatworm’s regeneration process is similar to the growth process of a human embryo. But even when they are adults, flatworms are still full of stem cells that can differentiate into any cell type needed to replace lost tissue. This raises many questions: How does a stem cell know where to migrate and what to become? How are these internal processes communicated? And, in the end, which genes are responsible for regeneration.
Cell biologist Dr. Kerstin Bartscherer and her Cells-in-Motion team “Stem Cells and Regeneration” explore these questions in the laboratories of the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine (MPI). By inducing RNA interference, they can disable certain gene functions to find out if these genes play a leading role in regeneration. A detailed understanding of how flatworms regenerate should eventually help scientists comprehend the limits of human regeneration.