Cut off the head of a three-banded panther worm, and it will grow another — mouth, brain, and all. Cut off its tail, and the same thing happens. Cut it in three pieces, and within eight weeks there’ll be three fully formed worms.
Put simply: The three-banded panther worm is one of the greatest of all time when it comes to regeneration, which is why scientists started studying this Tic Tac-sized worm in earnest over the past decade or so to learn exactly how it pulls off such an amazing feat. Such knowledge could eventually lend insights into the possibilities for a similar kind of regeneration process in humans.
Now, a team of researchers has taken the study of these worms to the next level by making them glow in the dark through a process called transgenesis. The work, described in a new paper in Developmental Cell, is led by Mansi Srivastava, a professor of organismic and evolutionary biology at Harvard who has been studying three-banded panthers for more than a decade.
Transgenesis is when scientists introduce something into the genome of an organism that is not normally part of that genome. “It’s a tool that biologists use to study how cells or tissues work within the body of an animal,” Srivastava said.
The glow-in-the-dark factor comes from the introduction of a gene that, when it becomes a protein, gives off a certain florescent glow. These proteins glow either green or red and can lead to glowing muscle cells or glowing skin cells, for example.
The fluorescence gives scientists a more detailed look at cells, where they are in the animal, and how they interact with each other.