Many animals have been traveling to space for decades, and the list seems to grow with each passing year. Right from dogs, monkeys to scorpions and jellyfish, there are many space-return animals. A flatworm recently entered the list of this space traveling group. Surprisingly, this flatworm entered the space with one head but returned with two.
This bi-cranial creature is a flatworm that belongs to the species Dugesia Japonica. It was flown along with 15 other worms above the International Space Station for five weeks by the Tufts University researchers. These flatworms were cut in half before being launched to study their regenerative abilities.
While cutting a flatworm should have ideally created two identical worms, there was one worm that returned with an extra head where the tail should have been. The Tufts researchers say that this has never happened before in the past 18 years. The most interesting part is that the flatworm kept on making two-headed copies of itself which indicated a change in the physiological makeup of the worm.
The rest of the 14 flatworms displayed stresses of the outer space but nothing relevant. They were observed for 20 months, and researchers found changes in their behavior on light exposure when compared to those kept on earth.
Growing in Space is Bizarre
Researchers inform that the absence of both magnetic and gravitational forces in the space could have led to such dramatic transformation in the worm. Earlier research reveals that the earth’s magnetic field does play a significant role in the cell growth and the underlying structure of the worm. However, the microgravity could have affected right from gene expression to how the ion channels within the worm’s body communicate.
Astronauts also experience many physical changes while they are in space. Their bones and muscles weaken, eyesight can falter, blood thins and reduces the sense of taste. Besides these, long-term effects include heart diseases, vision impairment and much more.
While Scott Kelly lived aboard the International Space Station for 340 days, his identical twin, Mark, remained on Earth. Nasa has released the set of data which suggests Kelly’s genes changed during the 340 days on the International Space Station – but it isn’t exactly sure why.
Researchers hope that the flatworm experiment is just the beginning of many such research projects. Since they could not control variables like temperature differences during the flight, stresses of takeoff and landing, the researchers plan to conduct more experiments to nail down the exact mechanisms that affect the worm’s physiology in space.
The two-headed worm is just a sample, to validate their findings, the researchers plan to replicate the results with more experiments.
Featured image: Junji Morokuma/Tufts University) via discoverymagazine