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Study of planarians offers insight into germ cell development

nanos in mature adults caused their ovaries and testes to disappear. And when the researchers blocked nanos expression in planarians that had had their bodies and reproductive organs detached from their brains, the planarians regenerated new bodies, but with no reproductive cells.

"This is the first time that nanos gene function has been studied in a non-traditional model organism," Newmark said. "This is important because planarians, like mammals, seem to make their germ cells by an inductive mechanism. So we’re hoping that we can use the molecular biological tools available for studying planarians to get at the mechanisms that tell a cell: ‘You’re going to be a germ cell.?"

S. mediterranea also has the ability to reproduce asexually: It clones itself by means of fission. In looking at nanos in asexual individuals of this species, the researchers made the surprising discovery that these asexual individuals also express nanos and produce germ cells. Some other mechanism, as yet unknown, prevents these germ cells from developing into functional testes and ovaries.

"Having a simple organism that also uses inductive signaling is going to help us tease apart the more conserved mechanisms (of germ cell development and maintenance)," Newmark said. "We hope that this information will also prove informative for understanding these processes in higher organisms."
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Source:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


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