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Curious about how to make a two-headed flatworm? Michael Levin’s lab has done just that. This podcast explores exciting regenerative medicine achievable in our lifetime. Listen in to hear how Professor Michael Levin has found a way to manipulate biological molecules, altering electrical triggers in cells to direct different anatomical constructions.

He discusses

  • How he conceives of cellular and biological agency in a way that direct his study for the best possible outcome,
  • What types of molecular mechanisms his work engages with to redirect information structures and mapping so that cells make a different anatomical structure, and
  • How this work, including regenerating limbs in frogs, will apply to human limb regeneration.

Michael Levin is a Distinguished Professor at Tufts University as well as the Vannevar Bush Professor, the Director of Allen Discovery Center, and Director of the Tufts Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology. His lab addresses regenerative medicine through the intersection of three areas: developmental biology, computer science, and cognitive science.

He establishes his approach to cognitive biology: “It’s not a question of philosophy but a very practical empirical engineering question. You have a system and you are trying to reverse engineer it,” he explains. His investigations of molecular mechanisms in cell biology that determine pattern building strives to present achievable actions toward limb regeneration and altering molecular mechanisms of diseases like cancer. 

His work doesn’t engage with the molecular mechanisms of DNA replication or genetics, but rather cellular gap junctions, or “voltage-gated current conductance,” which hold the property of memory. His lab is not changing the structure or state of the circuit, but eliciting an electrical trigger. He makes this analogous to hardware versus software: this is not a hardware-level change, but one on a software level.

By identifying the bioelectric circuit that holds spatial distribution for certain state in planarian (flatworms), they’ve found a way to rewrite the electrical pattern that determines what cells are going to build after they are injured. Thus far they’ve used this to grow flatworms with two heads, for example, and produced limb regeneration in frogs. They also are working on redirecting cancer cells to move to a healthy state. 

To find out more about this work, see his lab’s website: www.drmichaellevin.org

Available on Apple Podcasts: apple.co/2Os0myK

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