Sayaka Mitoh, an ecologist at Nara Women’s University in Japan, had a shocking experience while studying sea slugs in her lab. She saw a sea slug lose its body and only its head was left. She and her colleagues thought that the slug would die soon without a heart and other important organs. However, within a few days, the slug began to regenerate its entire body, which is quite rare in complex animals like sea slugs.
The team conducted a study on two species of sea slugs, Elysia marginata and E. atroviridis. The team observed that some of the slugs self-decapitated or shed their bodies and regrew entirely new bodies within a month. The team also found that some slugs may have shed their bodies to get rid of parasites or to escape predators, although the exact reason is still unknown.
The scientists are amazed at the slugs’ ability to survive without vital organs for nearly a month. They believe that the slugs’ survival may be linked to their ability to survive using photosynthetic algae in their diet.
Although regeneration of this magnitude may not be possible in vertebrates like humans, these slugs could be a valuable testing ground for understanding the genetics behind remaking whole body segments. The study shows how biology can come up with clever solutions to challenges that threaten survival.