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Macrostomum lignano flatworm model at CBF

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Macrostomum lignano, a new model for studying the biology of flatworms

Macrostomum lignano (wikipedia) is an emerging invertebrate model that possesses many advantages over the classical worm models such as Caenorhabditis elegans (nematodes), Schmidtea mediterranea or Dugesia japonica (Planaria). In particular, this platyhelminth is extensively studied for its regeneration properties in order to address fundamental questions regarding stem cell biology, regeneration, and aging. [1] [2] [3]


Bright field image of Macrostomum lignano.


For example, an amputated head regenerates the posterior part within 10 days but a posterior part of M. lignano does not regenerate a new head. A single individual has been shown to regenerate the posterior part over 59 consecutive amputations. [4] Worms are also extremely resistant to irradiation and can tolerate up to 200Gy. [5] [6] In addition, adult worms show a high plasticity. Starvation for up to three months leads to “degrowth” and animals acquire the morphology of hatchlings. After restauration of feeding, all tissues and organs will restore giving heathy adults. [7]

All these regenerative properties are due to the presence of numerous stem cells (1600 of 25000 total cells, also called neoblasts). These neoblasts are thought to be totipotent and can give rise to all cell types including the gonads. [8]

Full genome sequencing, transcriptome and annotation have been initiated at the Hubrecht Institute (E. Berezikov) and are currently carried out by an informal consortium of several research groups. (

[1Ladurner P, Schärer L, Salvenmoser W and Rieger RM. A new model organism among the lower Bilateria and the use of digital microscopy in taxonomy of meiobenthic Platyhelminthes: Macrostomum lignano, n. sp.(Rhabditophora, Macrostomorpha). Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research 2005. 43, 114-126.

[2Mouton S, Willems M, Braeckman BP, Egger B, Ladurner P, Schärer L, Borgonie G. The free-living flatworm Macrostomum lignano: a new model organism for ageing research. Exp Gerontol. 2009 Apr;44(4):243-9.

[3Simanov D, Mellaart-Straver I, Sormacheva I, Berezikov E. The Flatworm Macrostomum lignano Is a Powerful Model Organism for Ion Channel and Stem Cell Research. Stem Cells Int. 2012;2012:167265.

[4Egger B, Ladurner P, Nimeth K, Gschwentner R, Rieger R. The regeneration capacity of the flatworm Macrostomum lignano—on repeated regeneration, rejuvenation, and the minimal size needed for regeneration. Dev Genes Evol. 2006. Oct;216(10):565-77.

[5Pfister D, De Mulder K, Philipp I, Kuales G, Hrouda M, Eichberger P, Borgonie G, Hartenstein V, Ladurner P. The exceptional stem cell system of Macrostomum lignano: screening for gene expression and studying cell proliferation by hydroxyurea treatment and irradiation. Front Zool. 2007 Mar 9;4:9.

[6De Mulder K, Kuales G, Pfister D, Egger B, Seppi T, Eichberger P, Borgonie G, Ladurner P. Potential of Macrostomum lignano to recover from gamma-ray irradiation. Cell Tissue Res. 2010 Mar;339(3):527-42.

[7Nimeth KT, Mahlknecht M, Mezzanato A, Peter R, Rieger R, Ladurner P. Stem cell dynamics during growth, feeding, and starvation in the basal flatworm Macrostomum sp. (Platyhelminthes). Dev Dyn. 2004 May;230(1):91-9.

[8Pfister D, De Mulder K, Hartenstein V, Kuales G, Borgonie G, Marx F, Morris J, Ladurner P. Flatworm stem cells and the germ line: developmental and evolutionary implications of macvasa expression in Macrostomum lignano. Dev Biol. 2008 Jul1;319(1):146-59.