We drew inspiration for our image on the cover of the May 23 issue of Biophysical Journal from Escher’s visions, as the worms we report in our paper are in a sense “impossible objects,” whose target morphology does not match their current anatomy. They are also “undecidable objects” because each worm stochastically decides to be one or two-headed upon amputation, persisting in an undecided state. The image is specifically based on the M. C. Escher woodcut Another World II, a.k.a. Other World II, which masterfully depicts paradoxical views of an alien landscape, revealing different aspects of reality but not matching our expectations based on the perspective we take looking through each of the windows in the structure.
Interestingly, Escher was well aware of the remarkable properties of planaria, as shown in his 1959 lithograph Planaria (Flatworms). However, the study of bioelectric regulation of growth and form applies well beyond planaria. It is relevant to the detection and repair of birth defects (especially of the face, brain, and left-right axis), the induction of regeneration of limbs, and detection or reprogramming of cancer, as well as synthetic bioengineering. Much like neural networks in the brain, somatic bioelectric networks store pattern memories and process information that guide development, regeneration, and cancer suppression. Beyond biomedical applications in regenerative medicine and bioengineering, the study of bioelectric communication within tissues in vivo is a branch of the emerging field of primitive cognition.
Evolution takes advantage of biophysical processes to drive computation and decision-making in the brain and body; learning to manipulate this process may allow us to achieve currently impossible biological objects, with structure and function far beyond those we can envision today.
The cover image was created by Jeremy Guay, of Peregrine Creative.
– Fallon Durant, Junji Morokuma, Christopher Fields, Katherine Williams, Dany Adams, Michael Levin