Pulse 102: DNA Switch for Whole-Body Regeneration

18 March 2019
Giulio Prisco

Sea Anemone Regeneration

Harvard researchers have found that a master control gene, called "early growth response" (EGR), controls the process of whole-body regeneration in animals able to regenerate their entire bodies after being cut in half (see below). EGR is also active in humans, which could open tantalizing future possibilities.

"If humans can turn on EGR, and not only turn it on, but do it when our cells are injured, why can't we regenerate?" said research leader Mansi Srivastava. "The answer may be that if EGR is the power switch, we think the wiring is different. What EGR is talking to in human cells may be different than what it is talking to in the three-banded panther worm … So we want to figure out what those connections are, and then apply that to other animals, including vertebrates that can only do more limited regeneration."

The discovery has been covered by the mainstream press. “Humans of the future could REGROW limbs!” reads a sensationalized Daily Mail headline. “Humans may one day have the ability to regrow limbs after scientists at Harvard University uncovered the DNA switch that controls genes for whole-body regeneration,” notes a story published in The Telegraph.

Also very interesting is the work of University of Toronto scientists on magnetic tweezers and nanobots (see below). "You could imagine bringing in whole swarms of these nano-bots, and using them to either starve a tumor by blocking the blood vessels into the tumor, or destroy it directly via mechanical ablation," said research leader Yu Sun. "This would offer a way to treat cancers that are resistant to chemotherapy, radiotherapy and immunotherapy."

Master control gene for whole body regeneration. Researchers at Harvard University have uncovered a number of DNA switches that appear to control genes used in the process of whole-body regeneration in planarian worms, jellyfish, and sea anemones that can actually regenerate their entire bodies after being cut in half. A research paper published in Science suggests that a "master control gene," called "early growth response" (EGR), acts like a power switch for regeneration. EGR and the other genes that play a role in the process are present in other species, including humans.

Magnetic tweezers and nanobots could help diagnose and fight cancer. Researchers at University of Toronto have built a set of magnetic “tweezers” that can position a nano-scale bead inside a human cell with high precision. The nano-bot has already been used to study the properties of cancer cells, and could lead to enhanced diagnosis and treatment. According to the scientists, the system, described in a research paper published in Science Robotics, achieves unprecedented accuracy in position and force control.

Health benefits of avocado seeds and green tea. Penn State researchers have found that an extract from the seeds of avocados exhibited anti-inflammatory properties in a laboratory study, published in Advances in Food Technology and Nutritional Sciences. According to the scientists, this is a potential source for novel anti-inflammatory compounds that could be developed as a functional food ingredient or pharmaceuticals. In related news, researchers at Ohio State University have found that green tea cut obesity and a number of inflammatory biomarkers linked with poor health in a study on laboratory mice, published in The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry.

Hydrogel contact lenses could one day treat serious eye diseases. Researchers at University of New Hampshire have created a hydrogel that could one day be made into a contact lens to more effectively treat corneal melting, a condition that is a significant cause for blindness worldwide. A study published in ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering outlines how the new hydrogel deactivates some zinc-dependent enzymes called "matrix metalloproteinases" (MMPs), which are the major factors in corneal melting.

Excessive hygiene may backfire. Researchers at Graz University of Technology have found that excessive hygiene promotes the spread of germs resistant to antibiotics. The findings are detailed in a study published in Nature Communications. In seemingly related research results published in Cancer Immunology Research, researchers at Georgia State University have found that exposure to microbiota, or microorganisms such as bacteria, in the early stages of life plays a crucial role in establishing optimal conditions in the intestine that inhibit the development of colon cancer in adulthood.

Genetically engineered biosensor for leukemic stem cells. Researchers at Tel Aviv University have devised a new biosensor that can isolate and target leukemic stem cells. The device, built with genome engineering technology, is composed of a stem cell active enhancer fused with a fluorescence gene that labels the cells in which the enhancer is active, as described in a research paper published in Leukemia. The scientists are persuaded that the new biosensor can provide a prototype for precision oncology efforts to target patient-specific cells to fight the deadly disease.

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