Sunday, December 19, 2010

secrets of the axolotl

Spiegel | The axolotl is one of a kind in nature: It can regenerate severed limbs, organs and even grow back its spinal column after injuries. At a new research center in Hanover, Germany, researchers are trying to unlock the Mexican salamander's secrets -- and whether they can be applied to humans.

They appear to be quite content. Around 100 salamanders are bobbing around in the aquarium at the Hanover Medical School in Germany. Their brachial gills sprout like hair from their heads and their tiny mouths seem to smile as they press their tiny front feet against the sides of the aquarium.

They don't all look the same, however: Some are missing an arm or a leg; others have a stump where a limb is in the process of growing back.

These are no ordinary amphibians. Many have had flaps of skin removed or parts of their limbs cut off -- under sedation of course -- by scientists investigating their regenerative capabilities. "Coagulation sets in instantly", says scientist Björn Menger. "You can almost watch the healing process happening." It only takes a few months until the body part has regenerated completely -- "the younger ones are even faster," says molecular biologist Kerstin Reimers-Fadhlaoui.

It is this incredible ability to regenerate that makes the axolotl so important to science. Limbs grow back as do parts of organs and even sections of their brain and spinal column. They are unique in the world of higher vertebrates.

In September 2010, molecular biologists, surgeons and amphibian experts set up a center for axolotl research in Hanover. Their hope is that they can unlock the healing secrets of the axolotl to help burn victims and amputees in the future. They also believe the animal may hold the key to longer life and prolonged youth and health. The axolotl lives extremely long for a salamander -- ages of 25 years have been documented. But it never really becomes an adult, remaining at the larva stage of development its entire life. Fist tap Big Don.