Dominant in the Northern Hemisphere, salamanders are a group of amphibians with lizard-like appearance, slender bodies and blunt snouts. They have short limbs, projecting at right angles to the body, and a tail in both larvae and adults. Axolotl is an odd looking salamander from Mexico that can regrow injured or lost body parts flawlessly, without any scar.
James Monaghan who is an associate professor of biology at the Northeastern University, is trying to learn how axolotls do with the hope that someday, a similar process might be triggered in humans. Monaghan has around 400 axolotls in his lab at Northeastern University. “They turn back on genes that you and I turn off forever. We have all the genes to make a limb, we just don’t know how to coordinate them. They do”, he comments.
In a human fetus, cells divide and differentiate to form nerves, tissues, bones, and organs. But for the most part, these processes cease once we are fully grown. However, axolotls and other salamanders can turn back on these developmental processes when they get injured. The cells near the wound de-differentiate, reverting to types of cells that are closer to stem cells and capable of building new tissue. As this process is underway, hundreds of genes turn on and off in different cells. To be able to translate this to humans, researchers need to identify exactly which genes trigger the changes. But it is to be noted that the axolotl genome is more than 10 times the size of the human genome.
Despite the fact that axolotls breed easily in the lab, their numbers have dropped in the wild. Other species of salamanders are also losing their habitat, struggling to cope with invasive predators, and dying from a particularly nasty fungal infection. Losing these populations means losing genetic.
Shahjadi Jemim Rahman