Yvonne Carts-Powell

It keeps regrowing and regrowing (and it’s not the Energizer bunny)

In Science on August 18, 2008 at 11:48 am

Axolotl salamanderClaire Bennet’s ability to regrow toes is quite a trick! And it’s one that she shares with newts and salamanders (as well as a variety of backboneless creatures).

One type of salamander, Ambystoma mexicanum (aka, the axolotl salamander) is unusual even for a salamander because it can regrow just about any bits of itself — including its brain, heart, in addition to toes and limbs. Even as an adult, it retains some characteristics (like the flat tail and gills) of a kid salamander. These critters also have an unusually large genome — about 10 times as large as ours.

“You can do anything to it except kill it, and it will regenerate” Gerald Pao

According to an article in MIT Technology Review, Gerald Pao at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and others are sequencing this salamander’s genome in hopes of finding out how it manages this trick — and in hopes that we can learn how to help humans pull a Claire, and regenerate heart or brain or nerve tissue, regrow limbs, all these things that could improve human quality of life for injured people.

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  1. Since it looks like this particular salamander may be able to retain its regrowth ability for an unusually long time, is there any research you’ve seen about why neoteny might be linked to regeneration ability? Something about less differentiation of stem cells, maybe?

    I’m also curious about the explanations for why it wouldn’t be beneficial for all animals to have the ability to regrow missing parts.

  2. The short answer is: I don’t know. However, I get the impression that you are exactly right, that there is, “something about less differentiation of stem cells…”.
    The salamander’s cells undifferentiate when it’s been damaged, so I imagine that by staying juevenile, cells may save some energy and time when asked to undifferentiate.

    Loss of regeneration ability is common among vertebrates, although it seems much more common among invertebrates (like sea sponges and starfish).

    Recent human stem-cell research reports undifferentiating skin cells:
    http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-02/uoc–usc020608.php

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