Readers of this blog are well aware of autotomy in lizards – self-amputation of the tail – that usually occurs as a result of sub-lethal predation. Readers of this blog are also familiar with the fascinating ability of many lizards to regenerate new tails post-autotomy. Lizards are the closest relatives to humans that can regenerate a fully functional appendage in the adult stage, and understanding the molecular basis of this process can shed light on the latent regenerative capacities in mammals. A new paper published this week in PLOS ONE (Hutchins et al. 2014) provides the first insights into the genetic mechanisms of lizard tail regeneration, using Anolis carolinensis as a model. Via the high-throughput sequencing of RNA from regenerating green anole tails, and the mapping of these sequences to the A. carolinensis genome, the authors describe the genes that are expressed during the regeneration process, shedding light on potential targets for future human therapies.
Disclaimer: I am not an author on the paper, although I do work in the Kusumi Lab with the authors.
While the ability to regenerate a fully functional appendage in the adult phase is likely a deeply homologous trait across animals, it is not uniformly conserved across vertebrates. Fish, as in the zebrafish model (Gemberling et al. 2013), and amphibians, as in the salamander models (Knapp et al. 2013) can regenerate both limbs and tails, suggesting that while the ancestral vertebrate was equipped with this ability, it seems mammals have during their evolution somehow lost it. Evolutionary hypotheses explaining exactly why some taxa lose the ability to regenerate adult appendages are far and wide, ranging from the stochastic to ecologically-specific fitness trade-offs (reviewed in Bely and Nyberg 2010).
But what are the proximate (i.e. genetic) reasons as to why lizards remain strong regenerators while mammals are left holding the short end of the regeneration stick? Continue reading The Genetics of Anolis Lizard Tail Regeneration: (Re)generating Major Internet Buzz