Growing New Limbs Might Soon Be Possible for Muggles!

aug102016Actually growing or “regenerating” new limbs or appendages has been possible outside of the Harry Potter universe for thousands of years … just not for humans. In fact, many other organisms can regenerate body parts in both form and function; for example, spiders can regrow legs, lizards can grow new tails, sharks frequently replace lost teeth, and starfish can regenerate lost arms. While humans do have some ability to regenerate lost or damaged body parts, it is limited to small areas of tissue such as skin or tonsils. Even though we can’t regenerate entire body parts, we share many similar genes with animals who can. A group of scientists from the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine decided to investigate these animals’ genes to see if they could gain a better understanding of how they function, with the hope that this would help them find a way to activate the same genes in humans.

The scientists looked at three different regenerative species: the zebrafish, the axolotl (if you don’t know what this is, make sure you Google it, they are really cool looking!), and the bichir (another type of fish). They found that each of these species shared the same genetic mechanism for regeneration, despite the fact that they have followed separate evolutionary paths for more than 420 million years! According to Voot P. Yin, one of the scientists on the project, identifying a “genetic signature for limb regeneration in three different species with three different types of appendages suggests that nature has created a common genetic instruction manual governing regeneration that may be shared by all forms of animal life, including humans.”

Moving forward, the scientists hope to pinpoint these gene mechanisms in humans, and explore ways to activate them. While we are a long way from being able to regrow entire limbs, this discovery could help with wound healing in the near future. In fact, many of the same mechanisms that control a lizard regrowing a tail also control how you regenerate skin when you have a cut or a scrape.

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August 10, 2016


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