Writing in the journal PLoS ONE, researchers at Arizona State University have analysed the patterns of gene activity in regrowing lizard tails, which could pave the way for better regenerative technology in human tissues in the future.
The scientists were studying the green anole lizard which can escape from predators by simply losing its tail then growing a new one over the next two months. But while lizards share many genes with humans, we don't share their incredible regenerative abilities.
The team discovered that the lizards turn on at least 326 genes in specific regions of the regenerating tail. Some of these are genes embryonic development and wound healing, as might be expected, as well as a biological signalling system called the Wnt pathway, which is also used by other animals that can regenerate their tails, such as salamanders and some fish. The researchers also identified a special type of cell that is important for the lizard's tail regeneration, known as satellite cells, which are also found in humans.
The hope is that understanding the genetic 'recipe' at work in the lizard's tail might lead to new ways to regrow human cartilage, muscle or even spinal cord in the future.