Regenerating limbs that have been cut off is a power reserved for comic book heroes and a handful of primitive animals. But scientists believe it may be possible to unlock the secret to regrowing lost limbs after identifying a set of genetic switches that allow creatures like the axolotl to regenerate parts of their bodies.
Many lower organisms retain the miraculous ability to regenerate form and function of almost any tissue after injury. Humans share many of our genes with these organisms, but our capacity for regeneration is limited. Scientists at the MDI Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, are studying the genetics of these organisms to find out how regenerative mechanisms might be activated in humans.
Though it sounds like science fiction, limb regeneration in humans is entirely within the realm of possibility. It can also help in wound healing and in the development of highly sophisticated prosthetic devices that are much more sensitive and effective than those currently in use.
Researchers at the MDI Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor have discovered that zebra fish, bichirs and salamanders can all create a lost limb or fin using the same tiny genetic components that have been conserved for millions of years, holding out hope that the knowledge can one day be applied to humans with serious injuries.
The ability to grow a new limb may seem like something straight out of science fiction, but new research shows exactly how animals like salamanders and zebrafish perform this stunning feat—and how humans may share the biological machinery that lets them do it.