Whole-body regeneration is the ability of some animals to reconstruct entire body parts after damage like being cut into several parts. This may seem incredible to us but several very different animals are able to perform this feat quite easily, a phenomenon that has attracted the interest of naturalists and scientists for ages.
We study the whole-body regeneration process of a simple animal called the sea anemone Nematostella. This animal belongs to cnidarians like medusas (jellyfish) and corals, and has a remarkable ability to regenerate even after being cut into several parts. Surprisingly the genome sequence of Nematostella reveals a large extent of genes and even genome segments that are similar to those of man, especially genes that function in embryonic development.
To better understand this mystery we have explored the genetic program, in which after bisection in the middle, the "tail" half reconstructs the head and the "head" part rebuilds the tail. In this project we have charted the genes that are induced at different time points along the regeneration process and compared their action in the head versus the tail forming parts. This screen identified many genes that are involved in the formation of the basic body axis in the embryonic development as may be expected and also discovered new genes that may be specific to the regeneration program, which has its own unique traits.
In this study we have also characterized the main genetic networks that are involved in regeneration and we now know more about which gene tools are responsible for the head and tail reconstruction jobs.
This information can lead in the future to better wound healing treatments in people and may even allow some organ repair after major injuries.