Sacoglossan sea slug can decapitate its own head and regrow its body


Heads up: There’s always room for growth.

Japanese sea slugs will no doubt become the envy of superhero fans – and perhaps certain 1700s French nobles – after showcasing a bizarre penchant for regenerating their own heads.

“We think that this is the most extreme case of autotomy,” Nara Women’s University aquatic ecology Professor Yoichi Yusa said.

He spearheaded the slimy new study published on Monday in Current Biology.

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Biology researcher Sayaka Mitoh was reportedly examining the oceanic invertebrates in the lab when several of the slugs inexplicably removed their own noggins, the AP reported. They then spontaneously regrew them, like the head-regenerating alien from “Men in Black.”

In order to prove that the regeneration ritual wasn’t a fluke, Ms Mitoh and Prof Yusa sliced the heads off 16 sea slugs. Six of the subjects initiated the regrowth process, with three successfully sprouting a new dome.

Of the latter trio, one slug even lost and regenerated its body twice, bringing new meaning to refusing to quit while you’re a head.

The scientists found the ability particularly miraculous because while some animals can sprout new legs and other appendages, “no other animals could shed their whole body,” Ms Mitoh said.

Prior research had assumed that the relatively big slugs, which can grow up to 40cm long, couldn’t survive without a heart.

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Prof Yusa and his team deduced that the strange ability is utilises photosynthesis from sunlight just like a plant.

Post-beheading, the slugs’ heads would even turn green and harness energy from oxygen and sunlight.

The scientists believe the head regrowth ability is a mechanism the slugs have developed to ward off parasites.

And the discovery may have applications for modern human medicine.

“It is of course a wonder of nature, but understanding the underlying molecular mechanisms involved could help us to understand how our cells and tissues can be used to repair damage,” said biologist Dr Nicholas Curtis of Ave Maria University in Florida, who wasn’t part of the research.

This article originally appeared on the New York Post and was reproduced with permission

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