Salamanders are fascinating creatures that have one key ability that humans would love to have. The salamander can regenerate just about any of its body parts, including arms, legs, tail, spinal cord, eyes, and in some specimens half the brain. The benefits that humans could have if this ability to regenerate could be transferred to humans is incredible.
The first step towards learning what allows the salamander to regenerate so much of its body is for scientists to assemble the genome of the amphibian. Scientists at the University of Kentucky have announced that they have assembled the genome of one salamander species called axolotl. This salamander is found only near a lake in Mexico City.
Axolotls are particularly prized for their regeneration ability. Researcher Randal Voss says that it is hard to find a part of the body that the axolotls can’t regenerate. The assembly of the genome is said to be key to figuring out what mechanisms allow the creatures to regenerate so much of their body.
While scientists were successful in mapping the human genome long ago, the genomes of species that are larger than that of humans proved much more difficult. The axolotl’s genome is one that is larger than that of humans and is the first genome of its size to be assembled. Only a few years ago scientists thought the ability to assemble a genome of 30GB or more in size was impossible, but the researchers at the University of Kentucky have proven that false.
As a proof of concept, researchers at the university assembled data to identify a gene that causes a heart defect in the salamander, providing a new model of human disease. The axolotl salamander is an endangered species, the University of Kentucky has the only federally-funded axolotl stock center in the US and provides the creatures to researchers and educators globally.