Flatworms have forever been thought of as the whipping boys of the animal kingdom, bullied even by the slugs.
But a team of British researchers have discovered that the asexual flatworm overcomes the ageing process to be, potentially, immortal.
Scientists, working from the University of Nottingham, have found that planarian worms have the ability to regenerate; it can replace aged or damaged tissues.
They managed to create a colony of 20,000 flatworms from just one of the ugly chumps by chopping it into pieces and observing each section grow into a new complete worm. This could help scientists develop new methods to allow humans to stay younger for longer.
"Our data satisfy one of the predictions about what it would take for an animal to be potentially immortal," Aziz Aboobaker, who led the research, told The Telegraph.
"The next goals for us are to understand the mechanisms in more detail and to understand more about how you evolve an immortal animal."
Apparently a planarian worm split in two will regenerate into two separate living worms. They can continuously maintain the length of a crucial part of their DNA, known as telomeres, during regeneration.
Both asecual and sexual flatworms regenerate indefinitely by growing new muscles, skin, guts and even entire brains, but the asexual ones also renew their stocks of a key enzyme which may mean they can be immortal, the study said.
The project is being funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Medical Research Council (MRC).
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