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Jellyfish Grow Twelve Heads

Jellyfish Grow Twelve Heads

By Helen Potter

Terry Pratchett once suggested that 'real science' was the sort that you could use to give something three extra legs and then blow it up. Here at the Null, we’re glad to see that at the Hanover University of Veterinary Medicine they've gone one better and created a twelve-headed jellyfish.

Researchers tinkered with Cnox genes in the jellyfish, which control how the body is laid out in the developing embryo. Humans have a similar version, inventively named Hox.

The team used RNA molecules (molecules that transfer information in the DNA to the rest of the cell) to turn off these genes, and then observed the results.

Silencing the Cnox-3 gene caused the formation of two fully functioning heads, while silencing the Cnox-2 gene led to the sprouting of "up to a dozen", said evolutionary biologist and invertebrate zoologist Bernd Schierwater.

Despite being a pretty cool thing to do to a jellyfish, the multiple heads also shed light on the evolution of corals.

Corals are animals formed from colonies that add heads to a common stalk and connect to a shared gut, much like the mutated jellyfish. Both belong to a group called cnidarians, meaning 'stinging nettles'.

Schierwater suggests that a common ancestor of both coral and jellyfish adapted the multiple head gene long ago, allowing animal colonies to form. This could have resulted in diversity of body plans from the very beginning due to suppression of just a few genes and gives more clues to "the evolution and development of animal life in general."

Plus twelve heads is just cool.

Helen's got enough brains for twelve heads, but all in one.

And if you want to know more about jellyfish, you could try these:
- Toxic - Little squirt's big potential
- Cool - 200kg jellyfish

Or perhaps you're just interested in jelly?
- Spoof - What happens when you microwave a jelly baby
- Lunacy - Jelly sandwiches

And join our Facebook group dammit - we're on a crusade to outdo other well known science sites...


Image: Eduardo Arenas




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28 Jul 2011
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