Regenerating body parts has always been considered the province of animals like lizards and amphibians — a nifty trait that mammals left behind on the evolutionary road. That’s not true for all mammals, though. Researchers report in the journal Nature this week that the African spiny mouse is able to lose up to 60% of the skin on its back to no ill effect — and then regenerate that skin, complete with hair, sweat glands and cartilage, instead of the scar tissue most mammals would develop.
This is the first time regenerative abilities of such an impressive degree have been seen in mammals, marking a great day in the history of the otherwise unassuming African spiny mouse. Researchers at the University of Florida Gainesville say it’s doubtful that the mice have evolved a totally new way of regrowing tissue. Instead, they suspect that the same ancestral genes governing tissue regeneration in creatures like salamnders have been switched back on in the spiny mice. That gives teams exploring the mouse’s spectacular regenerative abilities a good place to start looking for answers — and also holds the tantalizing promise that those genes could one day be reactivated in other mammals, like humans.
It hasn’t been determined yet if the mice can perform other neat regenerative tricks on par with lizards and salamanders, like regrowing a lost limb or tail — feats that it turns out might not be as miraculous as we once thought — and frankly, while we do our best not to be squeamish about necessary animal testing, we’d prefer not to be around when they run that experiment.
(via Nature, image courtesy of Oregon Zoo)
- We won’t need artificial cartilage if we can regrow the real thing
- Hopefully, regrowing tissue will get less weird than this
- Speaking of things people would like to regrow, here is a story about eunuchs