MDI Biological Laboratory
Assistant Professor

Prayag Murawala, Ph.D.

What makes axolotls regenerate and what blocks regeneration in us?

The Murawala Lab combines diverse disciplines (developmental biology, evolutionary biology, epigenetics, genomics and biophysics) and next-generation technologies such as gene manipulations, whole body imaging, and single cell -omics to understand the mechanisms of complex tissue regeneration.

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Limb regeneration

The limb is a complex structure that consists of numerous tissue types such as epidermis, bones, muscles, fibroblasts, nerves, vasculature and immune cells. Upon limb amputation all these cell types coordinate with each other and carry out an extraordinary feat of restoring exactly the lost portion. How do the cells even know where the amputation was made? How do they know when to stop regenerating? How do they form an exact replica with all the proper skeletal elements? These are just some of the questions that keep the Murawala Lab busy.

Tail regeneration

The axolotl is one of few organisms that can regenerate its primary body axis, including the spinal cord. During embryonic development, an array of myotomes and vertebrae is formed through a segmentation process called somitogenesis. Upon tail amputation axolotls also recreate new segments, each containing new muscles and vertebrae. However, these segments originate from a mature tissue and in the absence of somites. Using state of the art technologies, the Murawala Lab is addressing questions such as: what is the cellular source of the tail blastema and what are the underlying molecular mechanisms of tail regeneration.

Tissue metamorphosis

Axolotls are full of wonder. Although they spend most of their life in neoteny, in the lab they are capable of metamorphosis. A single exposure to L-thyroxine transforms axolotl body – they retract their gills and start breathing with their lungs. During metamorphosis they shed their skin and the emerging skin is more compatible with the terrestrial habitat. They lose their fin and their tail rounds up. Interestingly, they can still display tissue regeneration ability, although there is a small decline in the rate and fidelity. The Murawala Lab wants to understand cellular and molecular basis for metamorphosis and its implication on tissue regeneration.

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Lab Members

Marko Pende, Ph.D.Postdoctoral Researcher

Marko Pende, Postdoctoral Researcher, 2014 M.Sc. in Molecular Biology and 2015 M.Sc. in Immunology from the University of Vienna, 2020 Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering at the Technical University of Vienna and the Center for Brain Research, Medical University, Vienna. At MDI Bio Lab, Dr. Pende studies organ-wide structures such as nerves and their control of limb regeneration. He combines cutting edge methodologies such as tissue clearing and light sheet microcopy to gain system-wide insight of limb regeneration process.

Sofia-Christina PapadopoulosGraduate Student, Hannover Medical School

Sofia-Christina Papadopoulos, Ph.D. student at Hannover Medical School, 2016 B.S. in Microbiology and Genetics and 2019 M.Sc. in Molecular Medicine at the University of Vienna. At MDI Bio Lab, Sofia works to improve our understanding of L-thyroxine’s effect on the axolotl. A single exposure to L-thyroxine causes an axolotl to retract their gills and start breathing with their lungs. During metamorphosis, they shed their skin and the emerging skin is more compatible with a terrestrial habitat; they also lose their fin and their tail rounds up.

Roberto Damian García-GarcíaGraduate Student, Hannover Biomedical Research School

Damian earned his Bachelor’s degree in Basic Biomedical Research and his M.Sc. in Biochemical Sciences with a specialization in Developmental Biology, both from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). During his studies, he participated in research on the morphogenetic and differentiation capacities of stem/progenitor cells using organoids and investigated the regenerative abilities of dopaminergic neurons in the axolotl’s midbrain. Currently, he is working in the Murawala Lab with the aim of further understanding axolotl’s regeneration by developing new systems for inducing specific cell death during development and regenerative processes.

Vijayishwer Singh JamwalGraduate Student, University of Maine GSBSE

Vijayishwer Singh Jamwal, Ph.D. student at the University of Maine, B.S. in Life Sciences from Jammu University and M.S. in Zoology from Garhwal University. At MDIBL, Vijayishwer studies early mechanisms of limb development in the axolotl. Understanding tissue patterning during cardiac and limb regeneration may allow us to replicate these patterns in vitro.

Sallie Bogg, Ph.D.Visiting Scientist

Sallie Boggs, Ph.D., Visiting Scientist, professor emerita from the University of Pittsburgh Medical School. At MDI Bio Lab, Sallie is continuing her lifelong investigation of tissue regeneration and catching up on the last 20 years of research in the field of regeneration.

Katelyn WhiteResearch Assistant

Katelyn White, Research Assistant, is a recent graduate from the Husson University. She has a B.S. in Biology with a specialization in Biochemistry. At MDI Bio Lab, Katelyn is developing next generation tools that can help us study tissue regeneration in axolotl.

Elinor Tierney-FifeLaboratory Technician

Elinor graduate from Bates College with a B.S. in Biology and a minor in Hispanic Studies. She is a lab tech in the Murawala lab.

Samuel BroadbentINBRE Intern, University of Maine

Sam is a senior at the University of Maine studying evolution and development. His work in the Murawala lab focuses on tissue clearing and regeneration in axolotls.