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Scientists Uncover Secret of Jellyfish Regeneration

Credit: Sosuke Fujita/Tohoku University

Those weird little bubbles have a lot going on under the hood.

Jellyfish are one of nature’s simpler creatures, content to just float around the oceans and occasionally sting people. But they also possess an impressive little magic trick that few other members of the animal kingdom do: cellular regeneration. If a jellyfish’s tentacles are ever lost, it can grow them right back, good as new. How does such a basic creature have such an amazing ability? A research team from Tohoku University in Japan sought to find out.

For their study, the team focused on the biology of the Cladonema pacificum, a species of jellyfish known for their tree branch-like tentacles. They spawn frequently and are pretty easy to care for in a clinical setting, making them perfect subjects.

The team studied the jellyfish during each of their developmental stages in the hopes of learning about their proliferating cells, which are important in the process of cell division. Apparently, during the jellyfish’s “medusa phase,” which is when they swim around and procreate, those cells are distributed across its body. The cells spread out uniformly in the main umbrella-shaped head, while they pack together into tight clusters in the tentacles.

Here’s where things get interesting. As an experiment, the team withheld food from the jellyfish. In response, their body mass decreased in scale and their tentacles became misshapen. This means that somehow, the jellyfish converts food into energy for its cells, which allows it to use its regenerative abilities.

“We are currently trying to understand the molecular mechanisms of Cladonema development and regeneration,” said Sosuke Fujita, one of the authors of the study. “Based on this research, molecular control of cell proliferation is the key to deciphering jellyfish growth and regeneration.”

More research is required to discover what this mechanism actually is, but discovering a correlation is a good start.