Using Hydra to Understand Tissue Regeneration

The Greek hero Heracles fought a monster called the Hydra, which grew two new heads for each one he lopped off. Heracles was lucky he wasn’t fighting something with the regenerative ability of the real Hydra, which can re-grow its entire body from a few hundred cells. This simple water animal is helping scientists explore how some animals can regrow missing body parts.

Like its mythical counterpart, the real Hydra lives in water, but is tiny and harmless. It’s essentially a hollow tube with a single opening to bring in food and expel waste, and a crown of stinging tentacles.

“It has this amazing regenerative ability, it can regrow its entire body in about two days,” said Celina Juliano, associate professor of molecular and cellular biology in the UC Davis College of Biological Sciences.

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