Thursday, August 18

By activating and deactivating genes it is possible to regenerate an entire head

A group of researchers from the University of California, led by biologist Aide Macias-Muñoz, has managed to discover the mechanism used by Hydra to regenerate its head. These small aquatic animals use epigenetics, a series of processes that allow the way in which genes are regulated to vary, to activate or deactivate part of the genetic material. In this way they achieve “Rebuild” the head cut, which arises again under parameters other than those recorded during the initial development of the organism.

The epigenética It focuses on the mechanisms that regulate the expression of genes, specifically on those modifications that do not involve or are not determined by variations in the DNA sequence. At the same time, it marks the relationship between the genetic and environmental influences that determine the aforementioned modifications. In other words, they would be genetic variations induced by the environment and environment, which allow organisms to adapt to changes.

Almost immortal

According to the conclusions of the new study, recently published in the journal Genome Biology and Evolution, the Hydra is capable of regenerating its head from the modification of a subset of regulatory genes. During the regeneration of the head, the invertebrate shows an enrichment of certain activated regions, by different genetic transcription factors. Thanks to this process, the animal “orders” its body to restore the severed head, but through mechanisms that differ from those that facilitated its initial development, motivated by the genetic information present in the DNA.

It is important to note that despite being a simple organism, the Hydra is considered the closest species to what could be understood as a “To be immortal”. The stem cells of a Hydra will only disappear if they are completely eliminated within the digestive system of a predator or consumed by fire: in any other case, they can replicate indefinitely. Consequently, it is not so surprising that they may regenerate your head if they are beheaded.

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According to a Article published in Science Alert, these tiny freshwater creatures are practically capable of “resurrecting” after being smashed, as long as they preserve at least five organizing cells of the head. They will combine again and begin to organize the rest of the disorder in a mutilated body, until they recover the appearance and functions that characterize the organism.

Related topic: They discover the mechanism that allows certain worms to regenerate their heads.Related topic: They discover the mechanism that allows certain worms to regenerate their heads.

Genetic plasticity

Now, new research has managed to explain the epigenetic processes that lead to head restitution. According to a Press release, the gene expression It is much more variable and rich during the regeneration of the organ than in the process of development of the Hydra. This suggests that the animal can promote a genetic “plasticity” that adds to the information present in the genome a series of aspects determined by “learning” and the influence of the environment.

The scientists identified a total of 2,870 regions of the genome, which the Hydra activates within the organizing cells during the regeneration of the head. This includes “enhancer” genes, whose products and elements help drive other developmental processes. At the same time, the specialists identified a family of genes involved in the restoration of the head called Fos, which has also been observed in the regeneration processes carried out by other species, such as fish, salamanders and mice.


Coordinated Gene Expression and Chromatin Regulation during Hydra Head Regeneration. Rabi Murad, Aide Macias-Muñoz, Ashley Wong, Xinyi Ma and Ali Mortazavi. Genome Biology and Evolution (2021). DOI:

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Photo: Hydra is capable of regenerating its head through a series of epigenetic processes. Credit: David Plachetzki.

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