Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
RNAi
Scientific Community
 
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article
  News
Return

Solving the Mysteries of Regeneration

Published: Thursday, August 22, 2013
Last Updated: Thursday, August 22, 2013
Bookmark and Share
Biologist Peter Reddien seeks to understand planarians’ famous ability to grow new body parts.

Few animals can rival the amazing regeneration abilities of the flatworms known as planarians: When the worms’ tails or heads are cut off, they grow new ones, and even a tiny piece of planarian tissue can regrow an entire animal.

Scientists first observed these phenomena more than a century ago, but until the past few years, they knew very little about how planarians achieve these incredible feats. MIT associate professor of biology Peter Reddien has made it his mission to discover the genetic and molecular basis of planarian regeneration, which he describes as one of the great mysteries of biology.

“Cellular and molecular insight into regeneration has come far in the past decade, but we’ve still got a long way to go to understand how an animal regrows a missing body part,” says Reddien, who is a core member of MIT’s Whitehead Institute. “That is the obsessive focus of my lab — to try to understand how regeneration happens, with the conviction that generation of fundamental knowledge about regeneration works will be important for understanding biology broadly and also for generating ideas for therapeutic applications.”

In recent years, Reddien’s lab has identified dozens of genes involved in planarian regeneration. Many of these are related to human genes, and some are active in response to human injuries. “It’s my hope that our continued work will enhance our understanding of what makes some animals great at regeneration and others not as good,” he says.

‘A golden era’


Growing up in Dallas, Reddien was drawn not to planarians but to planets. He closely followed the exploits of NASA, especially the travels of the Voyager spacecraft, with Voyager 2 reaching Neptune and heading out of the solar system by the time Reddien was 15 years old. “From a young age I thought I would be a physicist who would work for NASA or the Jet Propulsion Laboratory,” he says.

He entered the University of Texas as a physics major, but shifted gears after taking a required biology course.

“I realized that we were in a golden era for biological research, that this was going to be a period in history unlike any other for biological research … a period of great discoveries about how the fundamental attributes of life work,” Reddien recalls. “I found that exhilarating, and I got very excited about that as a future potential path for me.”

After graduating from college, Reddien came to MIT as a graduate student in molecular biology, working with Robert Horvitz, now the David H. Koch Professor of Biology. Among other projects, Horvitz’s lab was studying the molecular mechanisms of programmed cell death, a process critical to embryonic development and in defending against cancer.

Reddien finished his PhD in 2002 — the year Horvitz won the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for his work in programmed cell death — and went to the University of Utah to do postdoctoral research on regeneration. Reddien describes his decision at the time to launch into study of the molecular basis of regeneration in planarians as “a bit of a gamble.”

“There was a lot of potential, but it was off the radar and in its early stages as a molecular genetic field,” he says. “At that time, the tools for studying gene function in this organism were just in their infancy. There were no published roles for any gene at the time based on disrupting genes and studying what goes wrong in regeneration.”

At Utah, Reddien worked in the lab of Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado, who had recently shown that a new technique known as RNA interference, which allows genes to be selectively turned off, could work in planarians. Until that point, genetic studies of planarian regeneration had not been possible. Reddien was confident that new tools such as RNA interference could get planarians to reveal their regeneration secrets.

“No one had done it, and it was not an established system for taking that type of approach, so I did feel like I was taking a bit of a risk,” Reddien says. “It worked out better than I could have hoped, but I knew that the road was going to be full of challenges because there weren’t established paths to follow to study regeneration defects in these animals.”

A fundamental approach

Since joining the MIT faculty in 2005, Reddien has discovered dozens of genes that play key roles in regeneration, whether initiating the process or helping to determine which body part needs to be replaced. One gene that his lab investigated, known as notum, interacts with a cell-communication system called the Wnt signaling pathway to control whether an animal regrows a head or a tail.

Reddien also found that adult planarians maintain a population of pluripotent stem cells, known as clonogenic neoblasts, that can grow into any type of tissue. These cells are key to tissue regeneration, and his lab has identified genes that give these cells their regenerative potential.

“This is the kind of science you dream of when you’re a kid,” Reddien says. “We’re cutting off animals’ heads and figuring out how they regrow new ones at a molecular level. It’s up to us to develop the methods we need to solve these problems because it’s such a new field. It’s just been a real adventure and that’s something I’m greatly drawn to in science.”

Many of the genes that Reddien has discovered in planarians have counterparts in the human genome, though the functions of many in humans have been little studied. Learning more about them could help advance the field of regenerative medicine.

“We are taking a fundamental science approach to the problem, with the idea that evolution has already selected for mechanisms that allow regenerative repair events that would be the dream of regenerative medicine. The hope is that understanding these mechanisms could lead to new ideas about how applications could be derived to enhance wound healing and repair in humans,” Reddien says.


Further Information
Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 2,400+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More than 3,700+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters


Sign In



Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into TechnologyNetworks.com you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Related Content

Identifying a Key Growth Factor in Cell Proliferation
Researchers discover that aspartate is a limiter of cell proliferation.
Friday, July 31, 2015
Firms “Under-invest” in Long-Term Cancer Research
Tweaks to the R&D pipeline could create new drugs and greater social benefit.
Thursday, July 30, 2015
Nanoparticles Can Clean Up Environmental Pollutants
Researchers have found that nanomaterials and UV light can “trap” chemicals for easy removal from soil and water.
Thursday, July 23, 2015
Tough biogel structures produced by 3-D printing
Researchers have developed a new way of making tough — but soft and wet — bio-compatible materials, called “hydrogels,” into complex and intricately patterned shapes.
Wednesday, June 03, 2015
Diagnosing Cancer with Help from Bacteria
Engineered probiotics can detect tumors in the liver.
Friday, May 29, 2015
Master Gene Regulator Could Be New Target For Schizophrenia Treatment
Researchers at MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory have identified a master genetic regulator that could account for faulty brain functions that contribute to schizophrenia.
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Designing Better Medical Implants
A team of MIT researchers have discovered a novel method for reducing the typical immune system rejection response when implanting biomedical devices into the body.
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Brain Tumor Weakness Identified
Discovery could offer a new target for treatment of glioblastoma.
Thursday, April 09, 2015
New Nanodevice Defeats Drug Resistance
Tiny particles embedded in gel can turn off drug-resistance genes, then release cancer drugs.
Wednesday, March 04, 2015
New Nanodevice Defeats Drug Resistance
Tiny particles embedded in gel can turn off drug-resistance genes, then release cancer drugs.
Tuesday, March 03, 2015
Proteins Drive Cancer Cells To Change States
When RNA-binding proteins are turned on, cancer cells get locked in a proliferative state.
Monday, December 15, 2014
New Way To Turn Genes On
Technique allows rapid, large-scale studies of gene function.
Thursday, December 11, 2014
New Device Could Make Large Biological Circuits Practical
Innovation from MIT could allow many biological components to be connected to produce predictable effects.
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Fast Modeling Of Cancer Mutations
New genome-editing technique enables rapid analysis of genes mutated in tumors.
Thursday, October 23, 2014
Chemists Recruit Anthrax to Deliver Cancer Drugs
With some tinkering, a deadly protein becomes an efficient carrier for antibody drugs.
Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Scientific News
Long Telomeres Associated with Increased Lung Cancer Risk
Genetic predisposition for long telomeres predicts increased lung adenocarcinoma risk.
First Artificial Ribosome Designed
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Northwestern University have engineered a tethered ribosome that works nearly as well as the authentic cellular component, or organelle, that produces all the proteins and enzymes within the cell.
Identifying a Key Growth Factor in Cell Proliferation
Researchers discover that aspartate is a limiter of cell proliferation.
A Gene-Sequence Swap Using CRISPR to Cure Haemophilia
For the first time chromosomal defects responsible for hemophilia have been corrected in patient-specific iPSCs using CRISPR-Cas9 nucleases
New Tool Uses 'Drug Spillover' to Match Cancer Patients with Treatments
Researchers have developed a new tool that improves the ability to match drugs to disease: the Kinase Addiction Ranker (KAR) predicts what genetics are truly driving the cancer in any population of cells and chooses the best "kinase inhibitor" to silence these dangerous genetic causes of disease.
New Material Opens Possibilities for Super-Long-Acting Pills
A pH-responsive polymer gel could create swallow able devices, including capsules for ultra-long drug delivery.
New Tool For Investigating RNA Gone Awry
A new technology – called “Sticky-flares” – developed by nanomedicine experts at Northwestern University offers the first real-time method to track and observe the dynamics of RNA distribution as it is transported inside living cells.
Access Denied: Leukemia Thwarted by Cutting Off Link to Environmental Support
A new study reveals a protein’s critical – and previously unknown -- role in the development and progression of acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a fast-growing and extremely difficult-to-treat blood cancer.
New Weapon in the Fight Against Blood Cancer
This strategy, which uses patients’ own immune cells, genetically engineered to target tumors, has shown significant success against multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells that is largely incurable.
TOPLESS Plants Provide Clues to Human Molecular Interactions
Scientists at Van Andel Research Institute have revealed an important molecular mechanism in plants that has significant similarities to certain signaling mechanisms in humans, which are closely linked to early embryonic development and to diseases such as cancer.
SELECTBIO

Skyscraper Banner
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
 
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
2,400+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
3,700+ scientific videos
Close
Premium CrownJOIN TECHNOLOGY NETWORKS PREMIUM FREE!