Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Celebrating Stem Cells – V Grow Worms

The genetic control of tapeworms' rapid growth

20 December 2019

Grow Worms

Tapeworms that can grow over six metres inside us are the stuff of horror films. But they present an intriguing mystery as well. Their speed of growth is remarkable, and comes even as they regularly shed body segments. This growth is driven by pools of stem cells – starter cells with limitless developmental potential, highlighted in the worms pictured. These super efficient stem cell stores’ tricks might be useful for scientists using similar cells to develop new treatments for many diseases. To investigate, researchers studied a rat tapeworm, and found the neck to be the main point of growth. Two particular genes take charge, but are also active elsewhere in the body, showing that the environment in the neck is key to their particular regenerative behaviour. This may point to a new target for tapeworm treatments, and understanding how different environments impact stem cells is key to ultimately harnessing their power.

Written by Anthony Lewis

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