Animals that regrow body parts like zebrafish and newts certainly function very differently to the way humans do, but we might one day be able to borrow some of these traits. A closer look at the mechanism driving these remarkable regenerative abilities has suggested that they could be recreated in mice, with the scientists involved hopeful it could ultimately improve our capacity to regrow damaged body parts.
Researchers have previously identified a long list of the genes that give certain animals the ability to regenerate damaged tissues. Some of these genes happen to have counterparts in humans, but unfortunately, when we have a limb severed it tends to stay that way. This key difference has lead researchers to suspect that it’s not the genes themselves driving the regeneration, but rather the sequences of DNA that regulate their behavior in the event of an injury.
“We want to know how regeneration happens, with the ultimate goal of helping humans realize their full regenerative potential,” says Kenneth Poss, professor of cell biology at Duke University School of Medicine. “Our study points to a way that we could potentially awaken the genes responsible for regeneration that we all carry within us.”
By observing the regeneration of the fin and heart in zebrafish, the team has now identified one of these regulatory sequences. Called tissue regeneration enhancer elements (TREEs), these DNA chains not only switch genes on at injury sites, but can also be engineered to manipulate how effectively animals are able to regenerate.