Aboobaker’s fascination with the planarium began with a stint in a planarium lab in Barcelona. Seeing the opportunity to study their amazing abilities he didn’t hesitate when he got the opportunity to establish his own lab in the UK. ‘We know so much but can’t explain how something as fundamental as regeneration works. The planarium system is simple to use, you can start with one cell and build something from there.’
His team wants to do two things. One is to study the planarium’s telomere biology in more detail. As cell DNA is replicated, the telomeres protect the ends of the DNA strands from damage. In humans, for example, ageing is associated with the shortening of these protective telomeres as cells reproduce. Stem cells, present in all animal tissue, are key to regeneration as they can become any other cell type, they have to be able to replace what’s been damaged or missing. To do that they need cues and signals to understand where the damage is, which cells are affected. In the case of the planarium, those signals are thought to come from the tissue left behind. Flatworms when cut in two can re-grow the missing parts.