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Mar 30, 2017 07:54 AM EDT

Stentor: Unraveling Its Secrets Might Make Humans Regenerate Like ‘Wolverine’

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A team of scientists led by Wallace Marshall, Ph.D., of the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), is studying a giant microbe called a Stentor that is found to have a regenerative power that can rival that of the "X-Men's Wolverine." Marshall, along with Scott W. Roy, of San Francisco State University (SFSU), has sequenced Stentor's genome to understand how it can regenerate.

The scientists are studying the giant single-celled organism to get insights into its regenerative abilities and find out if it could be applied to human cells, and aid in recovery from injuries. Stentor grows up to two millimeters in length, is 1,000 times bigger than most bacteria and is one of the largest known independently living cells on Earth.

Marshall noted that the Stentor's genome is organized like nothing else, additionally, it carries around with it hundreds of thousands of its genome. Cracking the Stentor's genome might help Marshall and other scientists find ways to bestow humans the ability of regeneration.

When damaged or cut, the Stentor can immediately regenerate any missing parts. If it is cut in half, it will grow a tail, and a new head - in minutes. Remarkably, the Stentor does not have a central nervous system, yet it can flee predators and learns even without a brain, Marshall said. Should the organism encounter a threat, it can shoot out a stream of blue pigment like what an octopus does.

The scientists sequencing project brought with it a few surprises, for one, larger Stentors carry more copies of its genome than smaller ones. The larger mystery for the scientists is how Stentor determines which part of it is missing that prompts it to repair the damaged portion of itself.

DNA spacers called introns are also of particular interest to the scientists as published in their report. Human DNA has introns that can stretch over a thousand letters. The Stentor has the shortest intron configuration of any known organism at only 15. The scientists say it is possible that it is making its genome as compact as it can.

Marshall is looking forward to finding out more about the Stentor's remarkable abilities. Admittedly, he does not know yet what his findings of the Stentor's genome might mean, however, no one else does either. Accordingly, a clear understanding of the Stentor's biology is still missing something big.

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