We all know that worms have the amazing ability to regenerate after being cut or severed in half. However, until 2010, scientists were not entirely sure which worm gene was responsible for assisting in this amazing process. According to *Science Daily, University of Nottingham scientists have discovered the worm gene that “enables” the planarian worm to regenerate body parts such as a brain and head after amputation. The gene is called ‘Smed-prep.’
According to Dr. Aziz Aboobaker, lead researcher and a Research Councils UK Fellow in the School of Biology, ‘Smed-prep’ “Is essential for correctly regenerating a head and brain in planarian worms.” The planarian worm contains adult stem cells. The cells “are constantly dividing and can become all of the missing cell types.” Because the planarian worm also has the right set of worm genes working to make the regeneration process occur perfectly, the worms regenerated body parts are the correct orientation, size, and shape and they also end up exactly in the right place.
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This discovery is important for several reasons. Aboobaker and his team believe that this helps them understand how tissues are regenerated “under normal circumstances.” This will help scientists formulate how to replace diseased and damaged tissues, cells, and organs. This can be useful in treating debilitating conditions such as Alzheimer’s DIsease. According to Aboobaker, “With this knowledge we can also assess the consequences of what happens when stem cells go wrong during the normal processes of renewal — for example in the blood cell system where rogue stem cells can result in Leukemia.”
So, the next time you think about worms try to remember that although small, worms are one of nature’s most powerful forces. In addition to keeping the planet’s plants and trees alive, we now realize that worms can also play a significant role in preserving human life.
Fun Facts About Worms
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There are literally thousands of different worm species on the planet today. Without them, the earth’s trees, plants, fruits, and vegetables would not survive. Worms do several things for the earth. Worms dig tunnels in the soil, which allows air to get to the plant roots. This process is called “aerate.” Worms also eat organic matter, digest it, and excrete the digested material. This digested material is called castings. Castings are rich with phosphorus, calcium, and potassium.
Worm castings are so valuable and ten times richer in nutrients that commercial topsoil, that many gardeners and farmers use the composting method to fertilize plants and crops. Worm castings also help create channels within the layers of the earth’s soil, which helps to hold water better and keep moisture in the soil longer. Continue reading to learn more fun earthworm facts.
•There are more than 4,400 different types of worms in existence today. Of the 4,400 species, there are 2,700 species of earthworm. There are more than 1,200 species of another type of worm called the inchworm.
•Earthworms belong to one of several different types of ecological groups. There are three broad ecological groups that have been identified for earthworms including: epigeic, endogeic, and anecic. The groups are based on what the earthworms eat and where they tend to live in the soil. The epigeic group is a litter feeder, litter dweller, pigmented, small in size, and it doesn’t burrow. The endogeic group consists of rich soil feeders, topsoil dwellers, has no pigmentation, burrows horizontally, and it is small in size. The anecic consists of litter and soil feeders, soil dwellers, dorsally pigmented bodies, extensive vertical burrows, and a large size. Size and color are usually good distinguishers for adult earthworms.
•Earthworms can be found in just about every corner of the earth. They live in trees, in bark, and under rocks as well as along rivers, near springs, and in ponds. Their favorite place to live, however, is burrowed inside the earth’s rich soil. During the winter month’s they burrow deep within the earth until the surface warms again during the spring. During the warm summer months, worms stay closer to the tops of soil where they create tunnels to wiggle in and out of. These tunnels are extremely important for plant life as they create a path for water and air, which is essential for the survival of plant life.
•The clitellum of adult earthworms contains features called genital tumescence, and tubercula pubertatis. The clitellum features, the male pores, and female pores are found above the clitellum and are all parts of the earthworm reproductive system.
•The earthworm has “setae” which are tiny hair-like projections that are arranged in rows along the earthworm body. The setae are used for locomotion by the earthworm.
•Places like China, Australia, Greenland, and the Sahara Desert have their own indigenous species of earthworms. Besides the Sahara Desert, you won’t find large numbers of worms living in “sandy” areas, especially sandy beaches. The vast majority of worms on our planet can only survive under certain environmental conditions.
•Worms have no lungs, so they breathe through their skin. This means that the worm’s environment and skin must be moist at all times. This allows the worm to breathe in oxygen. If the worm’s skin dries out, the worm will die from suffocation. While worms need moisture to survive, too much moisture can be fatal. If too much water is present, it takes the place of oxygen, which will cause the worms to flee to the surface. Once on the surface, worms will be exposed to sunlight. If worms remain in the sunlight for too long, they can become paralyzed.
•In addition to needing a moist environment for survival, worms must also remain close to their food supply. Worms feed on leaves and dead grass, which contain organisms that provide a healthy diet of bacteria, algae, and fungi. Worms feast on dirt as well, especially if they live deeper inside the earth. Worms also eat plants, fruits and vegetables.
•Although you cannot see them, worms do have mouths. The earthworm mouth is called the prostomium. The worm’s mouth is actually big enough and powerful enough to grab a leaf and drag it around. They also have a pharynx, esophagus, crop, gizzard and intestine. When the worm eats its food, it pulls the materials into its mouth with the help of the pharynx and its prostomium (also called acron). This creates a suction motion. This suction motion aids in helping the worm consume large amounts of food in a sort amount of time. The gizzard grinds the food.
•Worms eat so much that they typically produce excrement equal to their own weight every 24 hours.
•The worm’s moist sustenance rich environment plays an extremely important role in reproduction as well. Worms prefer to mate and reproduce in warm moist soil, away from the light.
*Worm Gene Information Source:
University of Nottingham (2010, April 24). Gene that allows worms to grow new head and brain discovered. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 7, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2010/04/100423113721.htm