Octopuses, the True Possessors of Superhero Regeneration

Octopuses have been one of my favorite sea creatures for a long time because of many of the cool features they possess. From being able to fit through tiny holes, camouflage perfectly to their environment, or destroy aquariums and much more makes them—in my opinion—one of the coolest and most fascinating animals out there. Now all of these traits are amazing but the best one is its ability to heal themselves like superhumans such as Wolverine and Deadpool. 

Octopus salutii Merculiano Via Wikimedia by Unknown

Now octopuses cannot be completely cut apart and grow back like these superheroes, but regeneration powers are being researched to apply to human use.

Octopuses lack bones making their arms very vulnerable to them falling off or damaged due to many different risk factors in the ocean. This danger caused them to evolve the ability to regrow and repair these limbs. Lizards have a similar trait in which they can regrow their tails, but not to the same condition of their previous one making a tail in worse quality, Octopuses regrow their arms back to perfect conditions as if nothing happened.

The protein that allows this regrowth process to occur is called acetylcholinesterase (AChE), and the great thing about it is that humans possess it too. It can be mainly found in the brain synapses and other nervous system intersections, though it can also help with cell differentiation and proliferation, and cell death. This protein is more active in octopuses than humans; however, it’s unusually more active and this is what seems to be the key role of the octopuses ability to regenerate.

To try and figure out how this process works researchers took six healthy female octopuses and cut 2 cm off one of each of the octopuses. Within 3 days all of the octopuses had chemical signals telling them to start work on the new part of the arm. In around the second week a cluster of stem cells and a tremendous amount of blood vessels could be seen where the “knob” use to be. After 28 days though all of those features vanished, and for the next 100 days or so the tip grew back. 

So what is controlling all these steps? Well, the AChE was not very active in the arm that had the piece missing, but it was active in the nerve cord. This is how the system worked until around the third week in when the chromatophores, color-changing structures, and suckers—as well as a nervous system and muscles which caused the area to have more activity. AChE was only fully active until day 42, but by day 130 the tip was fully grown back.

However, there is much more research that needs to be done to fully understand what is happening in the steps of the regeneration process of octopuses before people can start to apply these properties to humans. We do know though that Hank the septopus from finding dory could never really only have seven limbs.

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