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News Article | April 17, 2017
Site: phys.org

Scientists at the University of Washington, Texas A&M University and the Western Australian Museum have discovered and named a new genus and species of clingfish after stumbling upon a specimen preserved in a jar dating back to the 1970s. The fish was unmistakably different from the other 160 known clingfishes, named for the disc on their bellies that can summon massive sticking power in wet, slimy environments. The researchers named the new species "duckbilled clingfish" (Nettorhamphos radula) for its broad, flat snout ? not unlike the bill of a duck ? that houses an impressive number of tiny, conical teeth. "This fish has characteristics we just haven't seen before in other clingfish. It's the teeth that really gave away the fact that this is a new species," said lead author Kevin Conway, a fish taxonomist and associate professor at Texas A&M University. A detailed description of the new genus and species was published April 14 in the journal Copeia. Scientists, including co-author Adam Summers of the University of Washington's Friday Harbor Laboratories, are interested in clingfish for their ability to stick to rough surfaces. The finger-sized fish uses suction forces to hold up to 150 times its own body weight. Understanding the biomechanics of these fish could be useful in designing devices and instruments to be used in surgery, or to tag and track whales in the ocean. Conway and co-author Glenn Moore of Western Australian Museum discovered the new clingfish while looking through specimens preserved in jars at the museum in Welshpool, Australia. It's common for unknown specimens collected during surveys to be registered and shelved until an expert has the time, and interest, to take a closer look. This specimen was caught off the coast of Southern Australia in 1977. Even though the fish is only as big as a pinky finger, its unique teeth structure caught their attention. A couple of hours later, Moore found yet another specimen with similar features on the museum shelves. Together, the specimens are thought to be the only two of this new species that exist out of water. "A discovery like this highlights the importance of museum collections and reminds us just how much lies waiting to be uncovered," Moore said. "Finding a previously unknown specimen in a jar is exciting, but our collections of identified specimens are equally important so that we have something to compare against." The researchers suspected they had discovered a new species that represented a new genus of clingfish, given the unusual mouth structure and teeth arrangement, but they were faced with a conundrum: Naming a new species requires an intact, complete fish with good documentation of its morphology and clear distinctions from other species. With only two known specimens, dissection was out of the question. Instead they turned to Summers, who studies clingfish and is actively working to scan and digitize every fish species in the world using a computerized tomography (CT) scanner. Each completed scan is housed on Open Science Framework. Using the scanner, the scientists were able to capture even finer details of the new clingfish than would be possible through manual dissection. They also used the digital scans to 3-D print parts of the fish in larger-than-life size to be able to analyze the mouth and jaw structures. "This CT scan allowed us to take a completely noninvasive look at the entire skeleton of the fish, and it produced a gorgeous set of morphological photos that you couldn't get from dissection," Summers said. "It's a testament to the importance of using these noninvasive methods of data collection." The scans allowed the researchers to hone in on the fish's skeletal structure from many different angles and essentially digitally dissect parts of the fish. They estimate the tiny fish has between 1,800 to 2,300 individual teeth ? or 10 times what all other known clingfish have. The teeth point backward, which would suggest a gripping function, Conway said, but the researchers can't be sure since the fish has never been observed in the wild. The duckbilled clingfish joins the ranks of hundreds of new fish species that are described each year. It's more unusual for these new species to be placed into a new genus ? in this case, the fish's wider and longer upper jaw and abundance of tiny, dagger-like conical teeth were the sure signs of a brand-new genus. The researchers are particularly pleased to have discovered a new clingfish in a region of Southern Australia that is known for its clingfish diversity and abundance. "I think it's remarkable that we would add to this diversity with yet another new genus," Conway said. "It's pretty special given this fauna is already pretty well-studied." Explore further: Puget Sound's clingfish could inspire better medical devices, whale tags More information: Kevin W. Conway et al, A New Genus and Species of Clingfish (Teleostei: Gobiesocidae) from Western Australia, Copeia (2017). DOI: 10.1643/CI-16-560


News Article | April 17, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

A set of curious researchers, state-of-the-art visual technology and a bit of good luck helped find a new fish whose tooth collection could put a shark to shame. Scientists at the University of Washington, Texas A&M University and the Western Australian Museum have discovered and named a new genus and species of clingfish after stumbling upon a specimen preserved in a jar dating back to the 1970s. The fish was unmistakably different from the other 160 known clingfishes, named for the disc on their bellies that can summon massive sticking power in wet, slimy environments. The researchers named the new species "duckbilled clingfish" (Nettorhamphos radula) for its broad, flat snout ? not unlike the bill of a duck ? that houses an impressive number of tiny, conical teeth. "This fish has characteristics we just haven't seen before in other clingfish. It's the teeth that really gave away the fact that this is a new species," said lead author Kevin Conway, a fish taxonomist and associate professor at Texas A&M University. A detailed description of the new genus and species was published April 14 in the journal Copeia. Scientists, including co-author Adam Summers of the University of Washington's Friday Harbor Laboratories, are interested in clingfish for their ability to stick to rough surfaces. The finger-sized fish uses suction forces to hold up to 150 times its own body weight. Understanding the biomechanics of these fish could be useful in designing devices and instruments to be used in surgery, or to tag and track whales in the ocean. Conway and co-author Glenn Moore of Western Australian Museum discovered the new clingfish while looking through specimens preserved in jars at the museum in Welshpool, Australia. It's common for unknown specimens collected during surveys to be registered and shelved until an expert has the time, and interest, to take a closer look. This specimen was caught off the coast of Southern Australia in 1977. Even though the fish is only as big as a pinky finger, its unique teeth structure caught their attention. A couple of hours later, Moore found yet another specimen with similar features on the museum shelves. Together, the specimens are thought to be the only two of this new species that exist out of water. "A discovery like this highlights the importance of museum collections and reminds us just how much lies waiting to be uncovered," Moore said. "Finding a previously unknown specimen in a jar is exciting, but our collections of identified specimens are equally important so that we have something to compare against." The researchers suspected they had discovered a new species that represented a new genus of clingfish, given the unusual mouth structure and teeth arrangement, but they were faced with a conundrum: Naming a new species requires an intact, complete fish with good documentation of its morphology and clear distinctions from other species. With only two known specimens, dissection was out of the question. Instead they turned to Summers, who studies clingfish and is actively working to scan and digitize every fish species in the world using a computerized tomography (CT) scanner. Each completed scan is housed on Open Science Framework. Using the scanner, the scientists were able to capture even finer details of the new clingfish than would be possible through manual dissection. They also used the digital scans to 3-D print parts of the fish in larger-than-life size to be able to analyze the mouth and jaw structures. "This CT scan allowed us to take a completely noninvasive look at the entire skeleton of the fish, and it produced a gorgeous set of morphological photos that you couldn't get from dissection," Summers said. "It's a testament to the importance of using these noninvasive methods of data collection." The scans allowed the researchers to hone in on the fish's skeletal structure from many different angles and essentially digitally dissect parts of the fish. They estimate the tiny fish has between 1,800 to 2,300 individual teeth ? or 10 times what all other known clingfish have. The teeth point backward, which would suggest a gripping function, Conway said, but the researchers can't be sure since the fish has never been observed in the wild. The duckbilled clingfish joins the ranks of hundreds of new fish species that are described each year. It's more unusual for these new species to be placed into a new genus ? in this case, the fish's wider and longer upper jaw and abundance of tiny, dagger-like conical teeth were the sure signs of a brand-new genus. The researchers are particularly pleased to have discovered a new clingfish in a region of Southern Australia that is known for its clingfish diversity and abundance. "I think it's remarkable that we would add to this diversity with yet another new genus," Conway said. "It's pretty special given this fauna is already pretty well-studied." This work was funded by the National Science Foundation. For more information, contact Summers at fishguy@uw.edu or 301-864-1491; Conway at kevin.conway@tamu.edu or 979-845-2620; and Moore at glenn.moore@museum.wa.gov.au or 61-8-9212-3744 (in Australia).


News Article | April 18, 2017
Site: www.rdmag.com

A new species of clingfish that has been stuck in a preserved jar in Australia since the 1970’s has finally been identified. A team of scientists from the University of Washington, Texas A&M University and the Western Australian Museum have recently discovered a new genus and species of clingfish dubbed the duckbilled clingfish (Nettorhamphos radula) known for its broad, flat snout that houses a substantial amount of tiny, conical teeth. “This fish has characteristics we just haven't seen before in other clingfish. It's the teeth that really gave away the fact that this is a new species,” lead author Kevin Conway, a fish taxonomist and associate professor at Texas A&M University, said in a statement. The new clingfish was examined with particular interest because of their ability to stick to rough surfaces. The finger-sized fish could be useful in designing devices and instruments to be used in surgery or to tag and track whales in the ocean. The species was discovered after Conway and co-author Glenn Moore of Western Australian Museum stumbled upon the new clingfish while looking through specimens preserved in jars at the museum in Welshpool, Australia. It is believed that the duckbilled clingfish has been preserved since 1977. “A discovery like this highlights the importance of museum collections and reminds us just how much lies waiting to be uncovered,” Moore said in a statement. “Finding a previously unknown specimen in a jar is exciting but our collections of identified specimens are equally important so that we have something to compare against.” The science team used a computerized tomography scanner to capture even finer details of the new clingfish than would be possible through manual dissection and also used the digital scans to 3D print parts of the fish in larger-than-life size to be able to analyze the mouth and jaw structures. “This CT scan allowed us to take a completely noninvasive look at the entire skeleton of the fish and it produced a gorgeous set of morphological photos that you couldn't get from dissection,” co-author Adam Summers of the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratories, said in a statement. “It's a testament to the importance of using these noninvasive methods of data collection.” The researchers honed in on the fish’s skeletal structure from several different angles and essentially digitally dissected parts of the fish. The fish has an estimated 1,800 to 2,300 individual teeth—about 10 times of what all other known clingfish have. The teeth point backward, which the researchers believe suggests a gripping function. However, that can’t be confirmed since the fish has never been observed in the wild. While hundreds of new fish species are described each year, it is unusual for these new species to be placed in a new genus. For the duckbilled clingfish, the fish’s wider and longer upper jaw and abundance of tiny, dagger-like conical teeth were signs of a brand-new genus. “I think it's remarkable that we would add to this diversity with yet another new genus,” Conway said. “It's pretty special given this fauna is already pretty well-studied.”


News Article | April 18, 2017
Site: www.futurity.org

CT scan image of duckbilled clingfish with the upper jaw at right and the lower jaw at left. (Credit: Kevin Conway and Adam Summers) The only two known specimens were found on museum shelves, where they had sat for 40 years. (Credit: Kevin Conway and Glenn Moore) A newly discovered species of clingfish has a set of teeth that could put a shark to shame. Scientists discovered and named the new genus and species of clingfish after stumbling upon a specimen preserved in a jar dating back to the 1970s. The fish was unmistakably different from the other 160 known clingfishes, named for the disc on their bellies that offers massive sticking power in wet, slimy environments. Researchers named the new species “duckbilled clingfish” (Nettorhamphos radula) for its broad, flat snout―not unlike the bill of a duck―that holds an impressive number of tiny, conical teeth. “This fish has characteristics we just haven’t seen before in other clingfish. It’s the teeth that really gave away the fact that this is a new species,” says lead author Kevin Conway, a fish taxonomist and associate professor at Texas A&M University. A detailed description of the new genus and species appears in the journal Copeia. Scientists are interested in clingfish because of their ability to stick to rough surfaces. The finger-sized fish uses suction forces to hold up to 150 times its own body weight. Understanding the biomechanics of these fish could be useful in designing devices and instruments to be used in surgery, or to tag and track whales in the ocean. Conway and coauthor Glenn Moore of Western Australian Museum discovered the new clingfish while looking through specimens preserved in jars at the museum in Welshpool, Australia. It’s common for unknown specimens collected during surveys to be registered and shelved until an expert has the time and interest to take a closer look. This specimen was caught off the coast of Southern Australia in 1977. Even though the fish is only as big as a pinky finger, its unique teeth structure caught their attention. A couple of hours later, Moore found yet another specimen with similar features on the museum shelves. Together, the specimens are thought to be the only two of this new species that exist out of water. “A discovery like this highlights the importance of museum collections and reminds us just how much lies waiting to be uncovered,” Moore says. “Finding a previously unknown specimen in a jar is exciting, but our collections of identified specimens are equally important so that we have something to compare against.” The researchers suspected they had discovered a new species that represented a new genus of clingfish, given the unusual mouth structure and teeth arrangement, but they faced a conundrum: Naming a new species requires an intact, complete fish with good documentation of its morphology and clear distinctions from other species. With only two known specimens, dissection was out of the question. Instead they turned to Adam Summers of the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratories,, who studies clingfish and is actively working to scan and digitize every fish species in the world using a computerized tomography (CT) scanner. Each completed scan is housed on Open Science Framework. Using the scanner, scientists captured even finer details of the new clingfish than would be possible through manual dissection. They also used the digital scans to 3D print parts of the fish in larger-than-life size to be able to analyze the mouth and jaw structures. “This CT scan allowed us to take a completely noninvasive look at the entire skeleton of the fish, and it produced a gorgeous set of morphological photos that you couldn’t get from dissection,” Summers says. “It’s a testament to the importance of using these noninvasive methods of data collection.” The scans allowed the researchers to hone in on the fish’s skeletal structure from many different angles and essentially digitally dissect parts of the fish. They estimate the tiny fish has between 1,800 to 2,300 individual teeth—or 10 times what all other known clingfish have. The teeth point backward, which would suggest a gripping function, Conway says, but the researchers can’t be sure since the fish has never been observed in the wild. The duckbilled clingfish joins the ranks of hundreds of new fish species that are described each year. It’s more unusual for these new species to be placed into a new genus―in this case, the fish’s wider and longer upper jaw and abundance of tiny, dagger-like conical teeth were the sure signs of a brand-new genus. The researchers are particularly pleased to have discovered a new clingfish in a region of Southern Australia that is known for its clingfish diversity and abundance. “I think it’s remarkable that we would add to this diversity with yet another new genus,” Conway says. “It’s pretty special given this fauna is already pretty well studied.”


News Article | November 30, 2016
Site: www.medicalnewstoday.com

What if humans could regrow an amputated arm or leg, or completely restore nervous system function after a spinal cord injury? A new study of one of our closest invertebrate relatives, the acorn worm, reveals that this feat might one day be possible. Acorn worms burrow in the sand around coral reefs, but their ancestral relationship to chordates means they have a genetic makeup and body plan surprisingly similar to ours. A study led by the University of Washington and published in the December issue of the journal Developmental Dynamics has shown that acorn worms can regrow every major body part - including the head, nervous system and internal organs - from nothing after being sliced in half. If scientists can unlock the genetic network responsible for this feat, they might be able to regrow limbs in humans through manipulating our own similar genetic heritage. "We share thousands of genes with these animals, and we have many, if not all, of the same genes they are using to regenerate their body structures," said lead author Shawn Luttrell, a UW biology doctoral student based at Friday Harbor Laboratories. "This could have implications for central nervous system regeneration in humans if we can figure out the mechanism the worms use to regenerate." The new study finds that when an acorn worm - one of the few living species of hemichordates - is cut in half, it regrows head or tail parts on each opposite end in perfect proportion to the existing half. Imagine if you cut a person in half at the waist, the bottom half would grow a new head and the top half would grow new legs. After three or four days, the worms start growing a proboscis and mouth, and five to 10 days after being cut the heart and kidneys reappear. By day 15, the worms had regrown a completely new neural tube, the researchers showed. In humans, this corresponds to the spinal cord and brain. After being cut, each half of the worm continues to thrive, and subsequent severings also produce vital, healthy worms once all of the body parts regrow. "Regeneration gives animals or populations immortality," said senior author Billie Swalla, director of Friday Harbor Laboratories and a UW biology professor. "Not only are the tissues regrown, but they are regrown exactly the same way and with the same proportions so that at the end of the process, you can't tell a regenerated animal from one that has never been cut." The researchers also analyzed the gene expression patterns of acorn worms as they regrew body parts, which is an important first step in understanding the mechanisms driving regeneration. They suspect that a "master control" gene or set of genes is responsible for activating a pattern of genetic activity that promotes regrowth, because once regeneration begins, the same pattern unfolds in every worm. It's as if the cells are independently reading road signs that tell them how far the mouth should be from the gill slits, and in what proportion to other body parts and the original worm's size. When these gene patterns are known, eventually tissue from a person with an amputation could be collected and the genes in those cells activated to go down a regeneration pathway. Then, a tissue graft could be placed on the end of a severed limb and the arm or leg could regrow to the right size, Swalla explained. "I really think we as humans have the potential to regenerate, but something isn't allowing that to happen," Swalla said. "I believe humans have these same genes, and if we can figure out how to turn on these genes, we can regenerate." Regeneration is common in many animal lineages, though among the vertebrates (which includes humans) it is most robust in amphibians and fish. Humans can regrow parts of organs and skin cells to some degree, but we have lost the ability to regenerate complete body parts. Scientists suspect several reasons for this: Our immune systems - in a frenzy to staunch bleeding or prevent infection - might inhibit regeneration by creating impenetrable scar tissue over wounds, or perhaps our relatively large size compared with other animals might make regeneration too energy intensive. Replacing a limb might not be cost-effective, from an energy perspective, if we can adapt to using nine fingers instead of 10 or one arm instead of two. The researchers are now trying to decipher which type of cells the worms are using to regenerate. They might be using stem cells to promote regrowth, or they could be reassigning cells to take on the task of regrowing tissue. They also hope to activate genes to stimulate complete regeneration in animals that currently aren't able to regrow all tissues, such as zebrafish. This research was funded by the National Institutes of Health, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Seeley Fund for Ocean Research on Tetiaroa and a National Science Foundation graduate fellowship. Article: Head regeneration in hemichordates is not a strict recapitulation of development, Shawn M. Luttrell, Kirsten Gotting, Eric Ross, Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado, Billie J. Swalla, Developmental Dynamics, doi: 10.1002/dvdy.24457, published 25 October 2016.


News Article | October 26, 2016
Site: www.eurekalert.org

Studying the physical features of long-extinct creatures continues to yield surprising new knowledge of how evolution fosters traits desirable for survival in diverse environments. Placodonts are a case in point -- specifically, the placodont teeth that Stephanie Crofts, an NJIT post-doctoral researcher, has written about in an article recently published in the journal Paleobiology. Now working with Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences Brooke Flammang in her Central King Building lab, Crofts is the co-author of "Tooth occlusal morphology in the durophagous marine reptiles, Placodontia (Reptilia: Sauropterygia)." Placodonts, a group of extinct marine reptiles, lived at the beginning of the Triassic Period, the beginning of the age of dinosaurs, some 250 million years ago. They thrived in the shallows of the sea that split the ancient supercontinent Pangea. Their fossils have been found in Germany, Switzerland and Italy, and new specimens are being discovered in China. All placodonts have teeth on their upper and lower jaws, as well as a set of teeth lining the roof of the mouth. But over their evolutionary history, Crofts explains, placodonts developed specialized "crushing" teeth well-suited for eating the "hard prey" creatures that shared their environment -- creatures with thick shells, like clams or mussels. The evolutionary ancestors of placodonts had long, pointy teeth, even on the roof of the mouth, especially suitable for catching soft-bodied prey. In contrast, placodonts are easily identified by their crushing teeth, bulbous in early placodonts and flattened in species that occur later in the evolutionary lineage. The basic question for Crofts: How well did these teeth function, and did later placodonts achieve an "optimal" crushing tooth? Working with and international team of colleagues she met before joining NJIT in 2016, Crofts, traveled to museums throughout Europe to collect data on the shape of placodont teeth. Crofts' collaborators were James Neenan, a research fellow at the Oxford Museum of Natural History in England, Torsten Scheyer, associate professor at the University of Zurich's Palaeontological Institute and Museum, and Adam Summers, professor in the University of Washington's Department of Biology and head of the comparative vertebrate biomechanics lab at the university's marine field station, Friday Harbor Laboratories. Their investigative effort was made possible by funding from the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, the University of Washington, the National Science Foundation and Swiss National Science Foundation. In the course of her travel, Crofts compared the shapes of placodont teeth in the museum collections to models that tested how efficiently the teeth would break shells and how well they resisted breaking under pressure. Based on these models, Crofts and her team were able to predict that placodonts should have evolved a slightly rounded tooth surface, which would break shells efficiently without damaging the tooth itself. While some later occurring placodonts did just that, evolution equipped the latest known occurrences of these creatures with teeth that had quite different and very intriguing characteristics. Instead of the predicted optimal tooth, this group of placodonts developed a complex tooth surface with a shallow, crescent-shaped furrow surrounding a small cusp on the principal crushing teeth. As Crofts and her collaborators suggest in the Paleobiology article, this tooth structure may have worked in a way similar to the function proposed for early hominin molars -- with the furrow holding prey in place while the small cusp applies the force needed to break through the prey's shell. Further, Neenan and Scheyer have demonstrated that there is a slower rate of tooth replacement in this same group of placodonts, likely because changes in tooth shape protect the tooth from failure. Crofts, who completed her Ph.D. at the University of Washington in 2016, brings a paleontological perspective and interest in the evolution of functional morphology to the increasing range of research under way in Flammang's Fluid Locomotion Laboratory. Flammang is the founding director of the lab, and with the assistance of Crofts and other colleagues is taking a multidisciplinary look at nature's marine propulsion systems. Crofts became interested in the postdoc position available at NJIT when she met Flammang while both were taking a course at Brown University on X-Ray Reconstruction of Moving Morphology (XROMM), an advanced technique for producing highly detailed 3D video of skeletal movement. Crofts' current work at NJIT integrates comparative anatomy and physiology, biomechanics, hydrodynamics, and the use of biologically inspired robotic devices to investigate how aquatic organisms interact with their environment and drive the evolution of morphology and function. In addition to increasing the fund of basic scientific knowledge, it's work that has implications for the design of various types of submersible vehicles, including fully autonomous vehicles. Reflecting on her research involving placodonts, Crofts says that it is a "window into the complexities and possibilities" inherent to the process of evolution. The placodonts she studied and wrote about surprised with teeth differing very significantly from those which evolved in other related species. At NJIT, Crofts is continuing the search for new insights into how evolution shapes the functional relationship of all creatures -- including humans -- with the surrounding world. One of the nation's leading public technological universities, New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) is a top-tier research university that prepares students to become leaders in the technology-dependent economy of the 21st century. NJIT's multidisciplinary curriculum and computing-intensive approach to education provide technological proficiency, business acumen and leadership skills. With an enrollment of 11,400 graduate and undergraduate students, NJIT offers small-campus intimacy with the resources of a major public research university. NJIT is a global leader in such fields as solar research, nanotechnology, resilient design, tissue engineering, and cybersecurity, in addition to others. NJIT ranks 5th among U.S. polytechnic universities in research expenditures, topping $126 million, and is among the top 1 percent of public colleges and universities in return on educational investment, according to PayScale.com. NJIT has a $1.74 billion annual economic impact on the State of New Jersey.


News Article | November 29, 2016
Site: www.biosciencetechnology.com

What if humans could regrow an amputated arm or leg, or completely restore nervous system function after a spinal cord injury? A new study of one of our closest invertebrate relatives, the acorn worm, reveals that this feat might one day be possible. Acorn worms burrow in the sand around coral reefs, but their ancestral relationship to chordates means they have a genetic makeup and body plan surprisingly similar to ours. A study led by the University of Washington and published in the December issue of the journal Developmental Dynamics has shown that acorn worms can regrow every major body part -- including the head, nervous system and internal organs -- from nothing after being sliced in half. If scientists can unlock the genetic network responsible for this feat, they might be able to regrow limbs in humans through manipulating our own similar genetic heritage. "We share thousands of genes with these animals, and we have many, if not all, of the same genes they are using to regenerate their body structures," said lead author Shawn Luttrell, a UW biology doctoral student based at Friday Harbor Laboratories. "This could have implications for central nervous system regeneration in humans if we can figure out the mechanism the worms use to regenerate." The new study finds that when an acorn worm -- one of the few living species of hemichordates -- is cut in half, it regrows head or tail parts on each opposite end in perfect proportion to the existing half. Imagine if you cut a person in half at the waist, the bottom half would grow a new head and the top half would grow new legs. After three or four days, the worms start growing a proboscis and mouth, and five to 10 days after being cut the heart and kidneys reappear. By day 15, the worms had regrown a completely new neural tube, the researchers showed. In humans, this corresponds to the spinal cord and brain. After being cut, each half of the worm continues to thrive, and subsequent severings also produce vital, healthy worms once all of the body parts regrow. "Regeneration gives animals or populations immortality," said senior author Billie Swalla, director of Friday Harbor Laboratories and a UW biology professor. "Not only are the tissues regrown, but they are regrown exactly the same way and with the same proportions so that at the end of the process, you can't tell a regenerated animal from one that has never been cut." The researchers also analyzed the gene expression patterns of acorn worms as they regrew body parts, which is an important first step in understanding the mechanisms driving regeneration. They suspect that a "master control" gene or set of genes is responsible for activating a pattern of genetic activity that promotes regrowth, because once regeneration begins, the same pattern unfolds in every worm. It's as if the cells are independently reading road signs that tell them how far the mouth should be from the gill slits, and in what proportion to other body parts and the original worm's size. When these gene patterns are known, eventually tissue from a person with an amputation could be collected and the genes in those cells activated to go down a regeneration pathway. Then, a tissue graft could be placed on the end of a severed limb and the arm or leg could regrow to the right size, Swalla explained. "I really think we as humans have the potential to regenerate, but something isn't allowing that to happen," Swalla said. "I believe humans have these same genes, and if we can figure out how to turn on these genes, we can regenerate." Regeneration is common in many animal lineages, though among the vertebrates (which includes humans) it is most robust in amphibians and fish. Humans can regrow parts of organs and skin cells to some degree, but we have lost the ability to regenerate complete body parts. Scientists suspect several reasons for this: Our immune systems -- in a frenzy to staunch bleeding or prevent infection -- might inhibit regeneration by creating impenetrable scar tissue over wounds, or perhaps our relatively large size compared with other animals might make regeneration too energy intensive. Replacing a limb might not be cost-effective, from an energy perspective, if we can adapt to using nine fingers instead of 10 or one arm instead of two. The researchers are now trying to decipher which type of cells the worms are using to regenerate. They might be using stem cells to promote regrowth, or they could be reassigning cells to take on the task of regrowing tissue. They also hope to activate genes to stimulate complete regeneration in animals that currently aren't able to regrow all tissues, such as zebrafish.


A new study of one of our closest invertebrate relatives, the acorn worm, reveals that this feat might one day be possible. Acorn worms burrow in the sand around coral reefs, but their ancestral relationship to chordates means they have a genetic makeup and body plan surprisingly similar to ours. A study led by the University of Washington and published in the December issue of the journal Developmental Dynamics has shown that acorn worms can regrow every major body part—including the head, nervous system and internal organs—from nothing after being sliced in half. If scientists can unlock the genetic network responsible for this feat, they might be able to regrow limbs in humans through manipulating our own similar genetic heritage. "We share thousands of genes with these animals, and we have many, if not all, of the same genes they are using to regenerate their body structures," said lead author Shawn Luttrell, a UW biology doctoral student based at Friday Harbor Laboratories. "This could have implications for central nervous system regeneration in humans if we can figure out the mechanism the worms use to regenerate." The new study finds that when an acorn worm—one of the few living species of hemichordates—is cut in half, it regrows head or tail parts on each opposite end in perfect proportion to the existing half. Imagine if you cut a person in half at the waist, the bottom half would grow a new head and the top half would grow new legs. After three or four days, the worms start growing a proboscis and mouth, and five to 10 days after being cut the heart and kidneys reappear. By day 15, the worms had regrown a completely new neural tube, the researchers showed. In humans, this corresponds to the spinal cord and brain. After being cut, each half of the worm continues to thrive, and subsequent severings also produce vital, healthy worms once all of the body parts regrow. "Regeneration gives animals or populations immortality," said senior author Billie Swalla, director of Friday Harbor Laboratories and a UW biology professor. "Not only are the tissues regrown, but they are regrown exactly the same way and with the same proportions so that at the end of the process, you can't tell a regenerated animal from one that has never been cut." The researchers also analyzed the gene expression patterns of acorn worms as they regrew body parts, which is an important first step in understanding the mechanisms driving regeneration. They suspect that a "master control" gene or set of genes is responsible for activating a pattern of genetic activity that promotes regrowth, because once regeneration begins, the same pattern unfolds in every worm. It's as if the cells are independently reading road signs that tell them how far the mouth should be from the gill slits, and in what proportion to other body parts and the original worm's size. When these gene patterns are known, eventually tissue from a person with an amputation could be collected and the genes in those cells activated to go down a regeneration pathway. Then, a tissue graft could be placed on the end of a severed limb and the arm or leg could regrow to the right size, Swalla explained. "I really think we as humans have the potential to regenerate, but something isn't allowing that to happen," Swalla said. "I believe humans have these same genes, and if we can figure out how to turn on these genes, we can regenerate." Regeneration is common in many animal lineages, though among the vertebrates (which includes humans) it is most robust in amphibians and fish. Humans can regrow parts of organs and skin cells to some degree, but we have lost the ability to regenerate complete body parts. Scientists suspect several reasons for this: Our immune systems—in a frenzy to staunch bleeding or prevent infection—might inhibit regeneration by creating impenetrable scar tissue over wounds, or perhaps our relatively large size compared with other animals might make regeneration too energy intensive. Replacing a limb might not be cost-effective, from an energy perspective, if we can adapt to using nine fingers instead of 10 or one arm instead of two. The researchers are now trying to decipher which type of cells the worms are using to regenerate. They might be using stem cells to promote regrowth, or they could be reassigning cells to take on the task of regrowing tissue. They also hope to activate genes to stimulate complete regeneration in animals that currently aren't able to regrow all tissues, such as zebrafish. More information: Shawn M. Luttrell et al, Head regeneration in hemichordates is not a strict recapitulation of development, Developmental Dynamics (2016). DOI: 10.1002/dvdy.24457


News Article | February 2, 2016
Site: phys.org

New species of deep-water algae was photographed by a SCUBA diver at 200 feet at Kure Atoll in Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. Credit: Daniel Wagner/NOAA Scientists working with NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries announced the discovery of four new species of deep-water algae from Hawaii. Marine algae, or limu, are very important in Hawaiian culture, used in foods, ceremonies and as adornments in traditional hula. The new species of limu were collected between 200-400 feet, depths not typically known for marine algae. Heather Spalding, Ph.D., postdoctoral researcher at the University of Hawaii Department of Botany and lead author of the study, said, "I was astounded at the abundance and size of these algae, which resembled something you would see in a shallow-water lagoon, not at 400 feet." Spalding has been collaborating with NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries for several years studying samples collected by NOAA divers working in Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. She and her colleagues at the University of Hawaii and University of Washington's Friday Harbor Laboratories conducted DNA analyses that showed that the species are very different than those found in Hawaii's shallow waters, even though they are very similar in appearance. "If you picked up one of these algae on the beach, you couldn't tell if it was from a nearby rock or washed up from the deep, the species look that similar," Spalding said. The newly discovered species are similar in appearance to limu palahalaha (Ulva lactuca), or sea lettuce. Scientists consulted with the Native Hawaiian community to develop meaningful names for the new species to honor the great importance they have in Hawaiian culture. One species was named Ulva iliohaha, which refers to the foraging behavior of ilioholoikauaua, the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, one of the best-known residents of Papahanaumokuakea. The species were sampled during surveys between 2013 and 2015 in Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument by NOAA divers using advanced SCUBA diving technologies, and during past NOAA expeditions from 2006 to 2014 throughout the Main Hawaiian Islands using submersibles operated by the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory. Scientists anticipate that many additional new species of algae will be described in the coming years from samples collected by NOAA divers on future expeditions to the monument. "These findings redefine our understanding of algal distributions in Hawaii, and hint at the great number of other new species that are likely to be discovered in the future from these amazing deep-water reefs," said Daniel Wagner, Papahanaumokuakea research specialist with NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. More information: Heather L. Spalding et al. New Ulvaceae (Ulvophyceae, Chlorophyta) from mesophotic ecosystems across the Hawaiian Archipelago, Journal of Phycology (2015). DOI: 10.1111/jpy.12375


News Article | November 30, 2016
Site: www.gizmag.com

This acorn worm has grown a new head, internal organs and neural tube within fifteen days after being cut in half. Scientists believe humans have nearly all the genes needed to regenerate in a similar way, if the process is unlocked(Credit: Shawn Luttrell/University of Washington) Some of our closest invertebrate cousins, like this Acorn worm, have the ability to perfectly regenerate any part of their body that's cut off - including the head and nervous system. Humans have most of the same genes, so scientists are trying to work out whether human regeneration is possible, too. Regeneration – now that'd be a nice superpower to have. Injure an arm? Chop it off and wait for it to grow back. Dicky knee? Ingrown toenail? Lop off your leg and get two for one! It sounds ridiculous, but there's a growing number of scientists that believe body part regeneration is not only possible, but achievable in humans. After all, not only are there plenty of animals that can do it, we can do it ourselves for our skin, nails, and bits of other organs. What's more, we've got a lot of the genes for it. "I really think we as humans have the potential to regenerate, but something isn't allowing that to happen," says Billie Swalla, director of Friday Harbor Laboratories and and a Biology professor at the University of Washington, and part of a team that's closely studying regeneration in some of our invertebrate relatives. "I believe humans have these same genes, and if we can figure out how to turn on these genes, we can regenerate." Swalla and research partner Shawn Luttrell, also from the University of Washington, have been looking at the acorn worm; a small aquatic worm that burrows in the sand around coral reefs. Acorn worms are interesting for two reasons. Firstly, they have the ability to regenerate every part of their body, including the head, nervous system and internal organs. Cut one in half, and within 15 days each half will regenerate into a whole worm so perfectly you couldn't distinguish it from one that had never been cut. But secondly, they're also remarkably similar to humans, both genetically and in terms of how their body structure is laid out. In fact, thanks to their ancestral relationship with chordates like ourselves, acorn worms have a lot of DNA in common with us. "We share thousands of genes with these animals, and we have many, if not all, of the same genes they are using to regenerate their body structures," says Luttrell, "This could have implications for central nervous system regeneration in humans if we can figure out the mechanism the worms use to regenerate." Through DNA, every cell in our bodies contains the roadmap to build or re-build the entire machine. But for some evolutionary reason, this process has been blocked off. Perhaps we're flat out too big for it to be worthwhile from an energy perspective, as opposed to smaller amphibians and fish. Maybe our immune systems spoil the party by building up scar tissue around cuts. Thus, the researchers have been trying to figure out the gene expression patterns that happen when these Acorn worms are regenerating. They suspect there's some sort of "master control" gene that starts the process off, because once it begins, it follows the same steps in every worm. They're also trying to work out exactly which types of cells the worms use as the building blocks of a regeneration – be they stem cells, or other cells that could be repurposed for regrowth. The eventual goal is to learn how to activate the process in other animals, including humans, through gene editing or activation, and supply the necessary materials to let it work. It's a complex problem, but genetically we're working from a strong starting point. And if it's possible to regenerate tissue the same way as an Acorn worm does, that will include the nervous system, heart and other internal organs. A pretty amazing process to think about, but could this be an accepted medical reality in 100 years?

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