Scientists say they were shocked after discovering that sea spiders have the ability to grow new reproductive organs and anus.
Experts already knew that when arthropods lose legs, they can grow back.
But in a development that will no doubt inspire the next generation of Spider-Man stories, a study has found that underwater creatures have regenerative abilities that extend to the entire lower half.
“No one expected this,” said Professor Gerhard Scholtz, the lead researcher behind the breakthrough in understanding.
Other arthropods — invertebrates that have no internal skeleton or spine but have an exoskeleton — such as centipedes and crabs, are also able to regenerate limbs.
Some creatures can go even further, starfish can sometimes regenerate their entire bodies – lizards can grow new tails.
“If you look at the animal kingdom, there is a huge variation in the regenerative capacity of different groups of animals,” Professor Scholtz told Sky News.
“For example, flatworms can regenerate their entire bodies from a limited amount of tissue.
“On the other hand, we — mammals — can’t regenerate much — liver, tissue, skin, but little else.
“For arthropods — crustaceans, insects, myriapods, and spider types — it was completely unknown that they could regenerate body parts other than limbs.”
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The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that 23 sea spiders had amputated hind limbs and rear ends.
While the four older spiders didn’t grow anything, most of the 19 juveniles did.
Sixteen of them regenerated at least one lost body part, 14 had their hips restored, and 90 percent survived the amputation long-term.
Until now, it was thought that the spider’s rigid exoskeleton prevented any regeneration beyond the limbs, Professor Scholtz added. But his research found the creatures recreated body parts within “weeks or months”.
Regeneration isn’t always easy — some spiders have lost a leg or two.
Hope amputation breakthrough ‘always on’
Professor Scholtz from the Institute of Biology at Humboldt University of Berlin said the findings should inspire further research on different species.
“We’ll have to look at other arthropods to see if they can do this as well,” he said.
He plans to take the research further by replicating the research with insects, crabs and other crustaceans.
The breakthrough could revolutionize healthcare.
Research like this could one day advance treatments for human amputees.
“Hope is always there,” Professor Scholtz said.
“I don’t think sea spiders will play a crucial role, but who knows? The more you learn about regeneration in the animal kingdom, the more likely you’ll be able to use it medically.”