Amputee worm that spent five weeks in space returns able to grow two heads

Natasha Christian

An amputee worm that spent more than a month in space has returned to Earth with the ability to grow two heads.

The flatworm was launched into space aboard a SpaceX rocket in January 2015, according to CNet. Before it left Earth, part of its body had been amputated.

It reportedly spent five weeks on the International Space Station and it was evaluated for more than 20 months when it returned to Earth.

Flatworms are used in biological studies due to their ability to regenerate after amputation.

The worm was one of a set of both whole and amputee flatworms sent to stay on the ISS. Each was sealed in tubes filled with half water and half air.

A flatworm sent to space regenerated into a double-headed worm, the researchers claim. Photo: Junji Morokuma

On its return it regenerated into a rare double-head specimen, according to Tufts University report.

"Most surprising, researchers discovered that one of the amputated fragments sent to space regenerated into a rare double-headed worm." the researchers claim.

Researchers from the Allen Discovery Centre at Tufts University said they’d never seen anything like it in their combined 18 years of research on more than 15,000 flatworms.

What’s stranger is that when the researchers amputated both of the heads from the twin-head worm, the headless middle section grew back into two heads once again.

The worms spent five weeks on the ISS. Photo: NASA

“Moreover, when the researchers amputated both heads from the space-exposed worm, the headless middle fragment regenerated into a double-headed worm, demonstrating that the body plan modification that occurred in the worm was permanent,” a release on the findings from Tufts University read.

Researchers believe something happened after the worm was launched into space which caused its body to be reprogramed to consider itself a new "two-headed species"

It’s claimed other worms who went to space also did odd things, including splitting into two or more unique worms.

The worm was one of a group that traveled on a SpaceX rocket in January 2015. Photo: AP images
The worms spent five weeks on the ISS. Photo: AP Images via NASA

However the researchers said this could be due to the different temperatures experienced during the space journey.

Junji Morokuma, the lead author of the study said it was an important discovery, which could be helpful for the future of long-term space travel.

"As humans transition toward becoming a space-faring species, it is important that we deduce the impact of space flight on regenerative health for the sake of medicine and the future of space laboratory research," Morokuma said.