Planet Earth

How Lizards Regrow Their Tails

D-briefBy Carl EngelkingAug 20, 2014 8:04 PM

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The green anole lizard is master of a well-known trick: it can disconnect its tail in a jam and grow a new one. It's not only impressive, but enviable: regrowing broken or missing body parts has long been the dream of regenerative medicine. Now scientists have unlocked the secret to the lizard’s regenerative abilities, and it lies, in large part, within genes that humans share with the reptiles.

Finding the Recipe

Several other animals like salamanders and fish have regenerative abilities, but the anole lizard does it in a different way. Its pattern of tissue growth is distributed throughout the tail, whereas other animals focus their growth at the tip. And lizards are the most closely-related animals to humans that can regenerate entire appendages. To inspect the genetic activity in a regenerating tail, researchers removed mid-growth tails from five lizards. They cut each tail into sections, and conducted a genetic analysis of each segment. They pinpointed 326 genes that were turned on in specific sections of the regenerating tail — 302 of which are similar to genes mammals also have. Researchers published their findings Wednesday in the journal PLoS ONE.

Targets for Medicine

Since humans and anole lizards are working with a similar toolbox, researchers believe the lizard’s novel pathways are potential targets for regenerative therapies in humans. “By following 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,” lead author Knro Kusumi said in a statement. But until then — we're going to go ahead and advocate that you still pay full attention when operating the table saw.

Photo credit: Jill Lang/Shutterstock

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