A tunicate that spews its internal organs when stressed could lead scientists to scientific breakthroughs in human tissue regeneration.
A recent study in Scientific Reports took a closer look at Polycarpa mytiligera a common tunicate found in reefs off the coasts of Red Sea, Tanzania, Mozambique and South Africa, that display a rather odd and intriguing behavior when stressed.
The team found that when they gently squeezed over 60 of these filter-feeders, they discovered around 47 percent ruptured their filtration sacs and ejected their digestive tracts. But this isn’t the best part. With their digestive systems gone, the tunicate plays dead while it regenerates its gut in less than two weeks.
To test whether this was a defense mechanism, the researchers observed the reaction of predatory triggerfish and pufferfish to the expelled gut. Although chemical tests showed no toxic compounds in the coral’s digestive tract, neither fish wanted to touch the gut. This indicated that the expulsion was a good way for the coral to reveal to predators that it would be unappetizing to them.
Researchers are hoping this leads to more understanding of how humans can potentially regenerate tissue as the inverts and people share “close affinities.”