August 24, 2014
Discovery Of Genetic Secret “Recipe” For How Lizards Regrow Their Tails Could Help Human Recovery
John Hopton for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Researchers at Arizona State University have taken a giant step towards uncovering the genetic secrets behind lizards’ ability to regrow their own tails, and believe the knowledge could be used to stimulate regrowth in humans.
The process with which lizards regenerate their tails after losing them in attacks from predators is described by the researchers as a genetic “recipe,” until now a secret recipe, because like good cooking exactly the right mixture and amounts of genetic ingredients are thought to be required.
According to lead author Kenro Kusumi, professor in Arizona State's School of Life Sciences and associate dean in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, "Lizards basically share the same toolbox of genes as humans… we discovered that they turn on at least 326 genes in specific regions of the regenerating tail, including genes involved in embryonic development, response to hormonal signals and wound healing.”
Other creatures like salamanders, frog tadpoles and fish are also able to regenerate their tails, and all of the animals “turn on” genes in what is known as the 'Wnt pathway,’ a process that is required to control stem cells in organs, such as the brain, blood vessels and hair follicles. But whereas growth is mostly at the tip, lizards have a pattern of tissue growth that is distributed throughout the tail.
Elizabeth Hutchins, a graduate student in ASU's molecular and cellular biology program and co-author of the paper, says that the process, which takes around 60 days, involves “a complex regenerating structure with cells growing into tissues at a number of sites along the tail.”
Lizards are the most closely related creatures to humans that are able to regenerate in such a remarkable way. It is hoped the findings could contribute significantly to the treatment of spinal cord injuries, repairing birth defects and treating diseases like arthritis.
Kusumi tells us that now they have “unlocked the mystery of what genes are needed to regrow the lizard tail,” by applying “the genetic recipe for regeneration that is found in lizards, and then harnessing those same genes in human cells, it may be possible to regrow new cartilage, muscle or even spinal cord in the future."
An interdisciplinary team of scientists utilized “next-generation molecular and computer analysis tools” to observe the genes that are at work during tail regeneration. The lucky lizard they used to unlock the genetic secrets of regenerating body parts was the green anole lizard - also known as Carolina anole, American anole or Anolis carolinensis.
"We have identified one type of cell that is important for tissue regeneration," said Jeanne Wilson-Rawls, co-author and associate professor with ASU’s School of Life Sciences. "Just like in mice and humans, lizards have satellite cells that can grow and develop into skeletal muscle and other tissues." It is the connection with human anatomical processes, and the potential medical benefits, that make an already fascinating discovery even more exciting.
The researchers have published their finding in the journal PLOS ONE.
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