In the Florida Keys in the US researchers are looking for comb jellies. They call them ‘aliens of the sea’ and they are remarkable for being able to regenerate amputations with amazing speed. They can even re-grow their rudimentary brains in just three or four days.
The research team works out of a floating laboratory, which is in fact a retro-fitted steel shipping container. The scientists are trying to understand the genetic structure of a comb jelly. Exactly what triggers or controls their amazing ability to heal themselves? Could it be harnessed to enable humans to heal themselves after catastrophic accidents or traumas?
Rachel Sanford, a researcher at the University of Florida, explained: “I work on these things that are kind of like jellyfish but they’re not jellyfish at all. So that’s what I start out with. And then I take out their brain. And then it grows back. And then I try to figure out how it grows back. And what molecules and things are happening in this animal to help their elementary brain grow back.”
What they are looking for are things called ‘master regulators’, key molecules that control re-growth. If they can find them, the next logical step will be investigating whether human beings harbour anything similar. That could lead to new research on recovering from spinal cord or brain injuries, for example.