Scientists say they have been stunned after discovering the ability of sea spiders to grow new reproductive organs and anus.
Experts already knew that when arthropods lose legs, they can regrow them.
But in a development that will no doubt influence the next generation of Spider-Man stories, a study has found that the underwater creatures have regenerative powers that extend to their entire nether regions.
“No one expected this,” said Professor Gerhard Schultz, the lead researcher behind the breakthrough in understanding.
Other arthropods – invertebrates that have no internal skeleton or backbone, but have an exoskeleton – such as centipedes and crabs, are also capable of regrowing limbs.
Some creatures can go further, with starfish able to regenerate their entire bodies on occasion – and lizards able to grow a new tail.
“If you look at the animal kingdom, different groups of animals have very different regenerative abilities,” Professor Schultz told Sky News.
“For example, flatworms can regenerate their entire body from a limited amount of tissue.
“On the other hand, we – mammals – cannot reproduce much – liver, tissue, skin, but little else.
“For arthropods—crustaceans, insects, myriapods, and spider species—it was completely unknown that they could regenerate body parts other than limbs.”
The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, looked at the dissection of the hind limbs and spines of 23 sea spiders.
While four of the older spiders did not reproduce, most of the 19 juveniles did.
Sixteen of them regenerated at least one lost body part, 14 had their back restored, and 90% survived long-term despite the amputation.
Professor Schultz added that until now, it was believed that the hard exoskeleton of spiders prevented any extra limb formation. But his research found that the creature regenerates body parts within “several weeks or months”.
Regeneration wasn’t always easy – some spiders were a leg or two shorter.
Hope will be ‘always there’
Professor Schultz of the Humboldt University of Berlin’s Institute for Biology said the findings should encourage further study of different species.
“One has to look at other arthropods and see if they can do that,” he said.
He is planning further research by replicating the study with insects, crabs and other crustaceans.
And these developments could be transformative for health care.
Such research could one day advance the treatment of human amputees.
“There is always hope,” Professor Schultz said.
“I don’t think sea spiders will play a significant role, but who knows? The more you learn about regeneration in the animal kingdom, the more you might be able to use it for medical treatments.”
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