While flatworms regenerative abilities are known to scientists, their 5-week trip to the International Space Station in 2015 had a few surprises.
Dugesia japonica or planaria is a 0.5 to 1 centimeter flatworm that lives in freshwater bodies of East Asia and is famous for regenerating its body parts. Scientists from the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts wanted to know how zero gravity would affect this ability and what would then happen when moved back to Earth.
Their results are expected to help scientists understand better the effect of living in space on one's body shape and cell activity. “During regeneration, development, and cancer suppression, body patterning is subject to the influence of physical forces, such as electric fields, magnetic fields, electromagnetic fields, and other biophysical factors. We want to learn more about how these forces affect anatomy, behavior and microbiology,” said Michael Levin, a professor of biology and director of the Allen Discovery Center and co-author of the study.
They sent a group of amputated and whole flatworms via the SpaceX's resupply mission to the ISS. The worms were sealed up in tubes filled with half water and half air. They stayed there for five weeks and were then returned to Earth on which they were observed for twenty months.
And they were not disappointed- a lot of changes were observed with the spacefaring flatworms. First, when exposed to freshwater, the worms seem to experience "water shock" and were "somewhat paralyzed and immobile," hinting that these worms were altering their biological state while in space. Second, their behaviors seem to change, going to lighter areas of an illuminated area in petri dishes.
But the most interesting of it all is a certain flatworm that has developed two heads. They even tried to cut it on both sides, but both just regrew their heads back. “Normal flatworms in water never do this,” Levin told Live Science
See those two sets of cute eyes?
This gives an insight on how living creatures' biological systems are easily changed by gravity and the geomagnetic field. With this, the real question is, how far can space alter humans' biological make-up?