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The Common Receptor

Flatworms+spend+most+of+their+time+in+the+ocean%2C+it+is+in+the+ocean+that+flatworms+delicately+float+through+the+environment+%28Photograph+courtesy+of+Pixabay%29.
Flatworms spend most of their time in the ocean, it is in the ocean that flatworms delicately float through the environment (Photograph courtesy of Pixabay).

Flatworms spend most of their time in the ocean, it is in the ocean that flatworms delicately float through the environment (Photograph courtesy of Pixabay).

Flatworms spend most of their time in the ocean, it is in the ocean that flatworms delicately float through the environment (Photograph courtesy of Pixabay).

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Ouch! That hurts.

“I think of pain as being something that causes physical injury or damage to a person,” says junior Jenna Oppatt.

Pain, an emotion or impulse that you feel either internally or externally, has a great effect on any living creature. How exactly can we understand the processes in which pain accumulates, and how exactly did pain itself come to be?

“I would say that pain occurs within the brain because this where all of the nerves are located within a human, and the nerves control both physical and emotional pain within a human’s body,” says junior Hannah Fugate.

Recently, a Northwestern University research team discovered that heat and tissue injuries within Planarian Flatworms could have originated from an ancient receptor, commonly called pain. The event in which a living creature experiences pain is called nociception. When this phenomenon occurs, the body’s receptors immediately react to the potential dangers that lurk within the perimeter; those reactions occur during events such as tissue injury. The university’s research team found it extremely difficult to believe that such a simple organism could exhibit the same receptive responses to pain as other complex living creatures.

“Although simple, it would seem that flatworms could have a unique body structure because animals are always evolving and changing,” says sophomore Valentina Feigl.

It may come as a surprise, but Planarian Flatworms are one of the only simple creatures that contain a central brain. Having this brain allows flatworms to exhibit developed behaviors and mindsets when it comes to survival.

“Honestly, I would expect for a human to be the organism that established pain just because most scientists studying a field of psychology normally turn to humans for research. On the other hand, I think that pain varies for different living creatures. Think about plants. They don’t have nerves, but they are living creatures, while dogs have nerves and they are living, so it would be normal to expect that they react differently in certain environment situations. Honestly, I think it just depends on the species and kingdom that a living organism falls into, but I definitely believe that living creatures with nerves are more likely to help scientists understand pain,” says Oppatt.

As the research progressed, the team’s findings became even stranger. They discovered that flatworms carry the same molecular receptors as humans, and they are used as a means for survival within their environment. The research gathered at the university is unexpected due to the fact that flatworms are simple organisms, which means that they don’t suffer from pain as humans would. Essentially, flatworms still use the same receptors, but the only difference is that they use their receptors to avoid dangers. Marco Gallio, a Northwestern neurobiologist, developed a theory from these findings, hypothesizing that simple organisms could possibly have similar genetic functions in terms of pain, therefore causing evolutionary disruption. Gallio also brought to light that the simplest organisms could be the organisms that provide scientists with the basic information needed to understand more complex processing systems.

“Like flatworms, we are living creatures, and we both have DNA. I would expect that we have something in common with these organisms. Biology helps us understand the similarities between creatures,” says sophomore Shelby Bowers

As the research team continued to explore the Planarian Flatworm, the team found that the organism had a unique transient receptor, known as the TRPA1. This transient receptor is also called the wasabi receptor because it is noted as a censor for itch, irritation, and temperature in humans. The same is said to be sensed within a flatworm. The funny thing about the TRPA1 in flatworms is that the receptor does not sense extreme heat. Undoubtedly, scientists were shocked by this revelation and decided to lead a gene swap experiment between fruit flies, humans, and flatworms.

“Flatworms are invertebrates (animals without backbones) and humans are vertebrates (animals with backbones), so I would not expect for us to share the same receptors. I would, however, expect for humans to share receptors with creatures such as dogs and cat, since we share similar body structures” says chemistry teacher Sharon Worthen.

From this experiment, researchers discovered that the TRPA1 receptors in both humans and flatworms were controlled by cold temperatures rather than warm temperatures. Researchers also found that TRPA1 could rehabilitate a fruit fly. This seems to be the answer the researchers were searching for, but researchers found that their answer laid within the chemical production that came from the rehabilitation of the fruit fly. With this information, scientists were able to theorize that the chemical production coming from Flatworms could cause tissue and heat damage, therefore discovering that speedy chemical production was a component of the TRPA1 receptor.

“Any living tissue has the potential to be harmed by chemicals, even plant tissue can be harmed by certain chemicals. The chemicals would likely damage the protein structure within the animal, which would be the main cause for the tissue damage,” says Worthen.

All the information that researchers gathered allowed them to conclude that dangerous temperatures, and high chemical production could lead to activity within the TRPA1. In turn, this caused a human-like trigger that exhibited pain in the Flatworm.

“You can never really understand certain animals because every species is so different,” says Bowers

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Brashier Middle College Charter High School News....written and created by students, for students
The Common Receptor