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29 April 2021

Head Over Hearts

Lizards shedding and re-growing their tails are probably the best-known examples of impressive regeneration in animals, but other species take autotomy, the voluntary loss of body parts, to an extraordinary extreme. Sea slugs Elysia cf. marginata (shown here) and E. atroviridis can separate their heads from the rest of their body, including their heart, and not only survive, but regenerate a complete body from the head section: feeding within hours, regrowing a heart within a week, and fully regenerating around three weeks after the break. Their diet may hold the key to surviving without major internal organs, as the sea slugs perform kleptoplasty, taking up chloroplasts from the algae they eat into their own tissues, to provide them with energy through photosynthesis. Why they undergo this traumatic process is still unclear, but it could be a means of shedding internal parasites – a radical response that reveals new champions of regeneration.

Written by Emmanuelle Briolat

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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