How a Sea Squirt Could Help You Grow New Limbs (ABC News)

By Lee Dye

The closest relative we humans have in the huge population of invertebrates that blanket the earth is a tiny, inconspicuous flower-like marine critter that is amazing in its abilities to regenerate its damaged tissue from its blood vessels alone.

Scientists believe this odd character, just one of many spineless animals known as "sea squirts," or "tunicates," may hold the genetic secrets that might eventually allow humans to regrow a lost arm, or accept a heart from someone else without danger of rejection.

But, alas, if this unpretentious little animal is going to be our medical salvation, we may have to accept its dark side. It can also foul our beaches and our boats, and smother crabs and oysters while killing off much native wildlife. And it feels right at home in a heavily polluted harbor.

Botryllus schlosseri, commonly known as the golden star, perhaps because it is frequently golden in color and looks kind of like a star, or a flower, or a blob, may be a bit player in the world of animals without a backbone, which make up 95 percent of the species in the animal world. But it could have a huge future in the world of medicine.

It is believed to have been the first invertebrate to have a vasculature heart system, similar to that in humans, with blood cells traveling through blood vessels. But astonishingly, it can regrow everything just with its blood vessels.

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