Stem Cells and Planarian Regeneration: Science with Humanity

Recently students in the Mount Madonna School (MMS) 12th grade Honors Science with Humanities course investigated stem cells by conducting a Planarian Regeneration lab. Students observed how planarians regenerate and considered what the applications might be for human science in terms of curing disease.

Planarians are a bilateral flatworm that have the incredible ability to regenerate in totality. Students are observing the regeneration process over the course of a month and recording the ways in which the planarians regenerate asexually. Following various cuts performed on the planarians, students will look at the advantages and disadvantages of regeneration or asexual reproduction. No animals were harmed in this process; regeneration is a type of asexual reproduction and the students’ “cuts” are creating more planarians, or clones of the existing animals.

“This lab is part of our biotechnology unit covering the topic of stem cells,” said teacher Nicole Silva Culbertson. “There is a lot of groundbreaking research happening around stem cells and the plethora of diseases it may have the ability to cure, including paralysis, diabetes and Parkinson’s. Stem cell research does not come without controversy and debate, however, about how we acquire stem cells.

“As part of this course, students are studying the various types of stem cells – multipotent, pluripotent and totipotent – and how we, as humans, derive these stem cells, for example, with in vitro fertilization (IVF). Students study the science, history, economics, ethics and political debate around stem cells.”


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Nestled among the redwoods on 380 acres, Mount Madonna School (MMS) is a diverse learning community dedicated to creative, intellectual, and ethical growth. MMS supports its students in becoming caring, self-aware, discerning and articulate individuals; and believes a fulfilling life includes personal accomplishments, meaningful relationships and service to society. The program, accredited by the California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) and Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville. Founded in 1979.