We Now Know How Jellyfish Can Grow New Tentacles

There doesn’t seem to be much going on with jellyfish. These are jelly-like masses devoid of brains, hearts, or blood, frequently swept away by the whims of the ocean.

But it doesn’t mean they’re easy to understand. Not at all. Being among the most successful animal groups on the planet, they are incredibly efficient.

Their tentacles, which are long tendrils that entangle their prey and deliver paralyzing toxins that let the jellyfish digest in peace, are one of the secrets to their success. The jellyfish can quickly regenerate its tentacles in the event that something bad happens to them.

Under the direction of University of Tokyo biologist Sosuke Fujita, a team of researchers has finally uncovered the cellular mechanisms underlying the remarkable healing properties of Cladonema pacificum, a tiny, fingernail-sized jellyfish.

A group of cells known as a blastema is essential for regeneration in all organisms, including insects and vertebrates like salamanders. It is now known that repair-specific proliferative cells, which are stem-like cells that are actively growing and dividing but have not yet differentiated, are the tissues from which jellyfish partially grow their blastema. Because they can transform into anything their host needs, these are a lot like stem cells.

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But it doesn’t mean they’re easy to understand. Not at all. Being among the most successful animal groups on the planet, they are incredibly efficient.

Their tentacles, which are long tendrils that entangle their prey and deliver paralyzing toxins that let the jellyfish digest in peace, are one of the secrets to their success. The jellyfish can quickly regenerate its tentacles in the event that something bad happens to them.

Under the direction of University of Tokyo biologist Sosuke Fujita, a team of researchers has finally uncovered the cellular mechanisms underlying the remarkable healing properties of Cladonema pacificum, a tiny, fingernail-sized jellyfish.

A group of cells known as a blastema is essential for regeneration in all organisms, including insects and vertebrates like salamanders. It is now known that repair-specific proliferative cells, which are stem-like cells that are actively growing and dividing but have not yet differentiated, are the tissues from which jellyfish partially grow their blastema. Because they can transform into anything their host needs, these are a lot like stem cells.

The researchers meticulously removed the tentacles, watched for the regeneration process to begin, euthanized, and dissected the animals, labeling the various cells with different stains, in order to ascertain how the jellyfish accomplishes its functions.

In fact, stem cells are constantly present in and around the tentacles of jellyfish. These cells can develop into any kind of cell that the body requires; they do not yet have a specific purpose. They serve as a lifelong source of upkeep and repair for the jellyfish’s body.

The repair-specific proliferative cells, on the other hand, are unique to repairing and regenerating damaged body parts, and they only emerge when the jellyfish is injured. This is not like the strange, radial development of the jelly; rather, it is similar to repair-specific cells found in salamanders, which develop with bilateral symmetry.

“In this study, our aim was to address the mechanism of blastema formation, using the tentacle of cnidarian jellyfish¬†Cladonema¬†as a regenerative model in non-bilaterians,” Fujita writes.

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“Given that repair-specific proliferative cells are analogues to the restricted stem cells in bilaterian salamander limbs, we can surmise that blastema formation by repair-specific proliferative cells is a common feature independently acquired for complex organ and appendage regeneration during animal evolution.”

Salamanders and jellyfish are very different from one another; the evolutionary paths taken by jellyfish and bilaterians are clearly distinct, and the last common ancestor between them lived hundreds of millions of years ago. Therefore, it’s intriguing to discover a shared repair mechanism in both; this could point to convergent evolution, in which disparate organisms independently acquire a shared set of traits.

The means to find out how the repair-specific proliferative cells in jellyfish originated are currently unavailable to us. According to the researchers, this is an important next step because it may help us find a way to enable human body part regeneration.

“Ultimately,” Nakajima asserts, “understanding blastema formation mechanisms in regenerative animals, including jellyfish, may help us identify cellular and molecular components that improve our own regenerative abilities.”

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