There are more things in heaven and earth, wrote Shakespeare, than are dreamt of in our philosophy. Professor Michael Levin’s laboratory is a case in point. While two-headed planaria might prompt comparisons with Chimeras of Greek Mythology, the myth is made truth by the intersection of electricity with biology. Levin and his colleagues have published extensive research into the role that endogenous bioelectric fields play in biological information processing, specifically in determining morphogenesis, or the development of shape in living organisms.
The Levin lab, based at Tufts University, will build on this ground-breaking research with a grant of US$199,589 awarded by The Guy Foundation. The grant is the latest in a series of grants by which The Guy Foundation, established in 2018, hopes to foster novel approaches to biology and physiology, with an eye towards new medical interventions. Levin’s research has the potential to advance regenerative medicine, with applications in birth defects, traumatic injury repair, aging, and tumour reprogramming.
“I’m extremely excited to partner with The Guy Foundation on this work, which will probe new ways by which biological tissues store information in physiological, not genetic, media,” said lead investigator Michael Levin. “These mechanisms have many implications for regenerative medicine and synthetic bioengineering.”
The Levin lab seems set to demonstrate the variety of ways in which information is communicated and stored by cellular collectives, beyond the purely genetic. Manipulation of the stable bioelectric patterns in tissue not only induces two-headed planaria to form from pieces of genetically normal worms, but such planaria continue to regenerate as two-headed in subsequent cuts, without any genomic editing. It is imperative to understand how such pattern memories are stored and can be re-written. The Guy Foundation is particularly interested in this challenge to the supremacy of genetic information, which dominates the narrative of biological development. “Michael Levin’s research is paradigm-shifting, not only in furthering new therapeutics but in widening the scope of biophysical research. As such the Levin lab is an ideal recipient for a grant, fulfilling The Guy Foundation’s aims of proposing and answering fundamental questions about the development of living organisms,” said Foundation Founder and Chairman, Professor Geoffrey Guy.
Further information about the study can be found on The Guy Foundation website: here