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The classical example of morphallaxis is that of the Cnidarian hydra, where when the animal is severed in two (by actively cutting it with, for example, a surgical knife) the remaining severed sections form two fully functional and independent hydra. The notable feature of morphallaxis is that a large majority of regenerated tissue comes from already-present tissue in the organism. That is, the one severed section of the hydra forms into a smaller version of the original hydra, approximately the same size as the severed section. Hence, there is an "exchange" of tissue.
Researchers Wilson and Child showed circa 1930 that if the hydra was pulped and the disassociated cells passed through a sieve, those cells then put into an aqueous solution would shortly reform into the original organism with all differentiated tissue correctly arranged.
Morphallaxis is often contrasted with epimorphosis, which is characterized by a much greater relative degree of cellular proliferation. Although cellular differentiation is active in both processes, in morphallaxis the majority of the regeneration comes from reorganization or exchange, while in epimorphosis the majority of the regeneration comes from cellular differentiation. Thus, the two may be distinguished as a measure of degree. Epimorphosis is the regeneration of a part of an organism by proliferation at the cut surface. For example, in Planaria neoblasts help in regeneration. An example of morphallaxis is in the Hydra.
- H. F. Dunbar: Emotions and Bodily Changes; New York; 1946
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