Planet Earth

Every Species Needs a Hero

The IntersectionBy Sheril KirshenbaumOct 22, 2007 4:08 PM

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As someone who's spent a heck of a lot of time studying sea cucumbers, I'm the first to know when these critters make the news. It's not because I follow the literature, but rather that everyone who does feels the desire to forward me related articles. Despite that this is an extremely charismatic animal, I'm not sure I'm completely comfortable with the association. I've definitely waded into many other (arguably as interesting) areas since my early days with echinoderms. Still, I'm beginning to recognize the reputation will follow me regardless. Well, every species needs a hero and I've been a denialist long enough. Friday, this article hit my inbox a total of 28 times.

Sea cucumbers will probably provide us with the key to deciphering how to regenerate our tissues, or at least find out what is needed to do this.

Now sea cucumbers have long been involved in eastern medicine touted as 'Ginseng of the Sea' and among other uses, have purported aphrodisiac qualities. I have no basis for comment and am admittedly skeptical - particularly of the latter. However, their curious regenerative abilities are undoubtedly real and understanding the mechanisms responsible provides tremendous potential in medicine. Perhaps 'Stem Cells of the Sea' would be a more apt title. Thus, today I embrace my roots in sea cucumber-ology and encourage everyone to learn more about the wonderful world of this stimulating holothurian.

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