Flatworm may help battle eye diseases

August 3rd, 2012 - 6:10 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Aug 3 (IANS) The planarian flatworm, which is able to recreate missing parts of its body, is being studied intensely by researchers who believe the worm could hold the key to battling many debilitating eye diseases.

Scientists have now decoded the full genome of the worm’s eye that could play a major role for studying eye development and eye diseases, the Daily Mail reported, citing the journal Cell Reports.

Peter Reddien of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), along with graduate student Sylvain Lapan, analysed more than 2,000 planarian eyes, and found 600 active genes and studied 200 of them in detail.

The most studied previous model for eye development were the compound eyes of fruit flies, as their genes are well documented.

Several of the identified planarian genes are known to have versions that play a role in the vertebrate eye but have not been found in the fruit fly eye.

Among these are genes involved in eye development and others associated with age-related macular degeneration and Usher syndrome, a disorder that causes progressive retinal degradation, the report said.

A key gene is the transcription factor ovo, which activates the expression of many other genes as the eye forms.

When ovo is experimentally turned off, planarians with head amputations cannot regenerate their eyes and eyes of otherwise normal adult planarians vanish after a couple of months.

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