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Longevity Briefs: Some Animals Can Regenerate Their Limbs. What’s Their Secret?

Posted on 10 September 2020

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Longevity briefs provides a short summary of a novel research, medicine, or technology that caught the attention of our researchers in Oxford, due to its potential to improve our health, wellbeing, and longevity.

The stages of regrowth for a salamander leg are visible in this composite image.

Why is this research important: When an animal loses a limb, that’s it, it’s gone forever. However, some animals have mystifying powers of regeneration which enables them to grow entirely new limbs. But the question of why some animals have this ability, and some don’t, has puzzled scientists for years. By understanding the secrets of their regenerative powers we could help many people recover their damaged organs and limbs, and improve human longevity.

What did the researchers do: Researchers based at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, Missouri, sampled two distantly related species that are capable of regeneration, zebrafish and the African killifish. Using next generation sequencing techniques they compared the genomes of the two species. The team searched for regeneration-responsive enhancers (RREs), lengths of conserved DNA shared by the two species, which might be influential in regeneration.

Key takeaway(s) from this research: The team found that a gene called inhibin beta A was active in both species whilst the regenerative process was in operation. This was also the case for a third species capable of regeneration, Cairo spiny mice. By either deleting a part of the DNA which stimulates inhibin beta A (the enhancer region) or replacing it with the human counterpart gene, the regenerative capabilities of the killifish were impeded. The researchers concluded that changes in this enhancer region are responsible for the differing regenerative power between species.

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