A new study led by the University of Washington suggests that it could be possible for humans to regenerate their own limbs soon. According to the researchers, humans have the same genes that can be manipulated to achieve such feat.
The research team, whose study is now published in the journal Developmental Dynamics, got their idea after analyzing acorn worms. These creatures can regenerate their internal organs, nervous system, head and other major body parts because of their genes.
Apparently, these creatures share the same genetic makeup and body plan with humans, making them the closest invertebrate relatives to humans. So if these similar genes can be manipulated in a person, then human regeneration can be possible.
“We share thousands of genes with these animals, and we have many, if not all, of the same genes they are using to regenerate their body structures,” says study lead author Shawn Luttrell of UW. “This could have implications for central nervous system regeneration in humans if we can figure out the mechanism the worms use to regenerate.”
“Regeneration gives animals or populations immortality,” points out study senior author Billie Swalla, a UW biology professor and the director of Friday Harbor Laboratories. “Not only are the tissues regrown, but they are regrown exactly the same way and with the same proportions so that at the end of the process, you can’t tell a regenerated animal from one that has never been cut.”
Humans cannot regrow body parts because it may be too energy intensive and not cost-effective, scientists believe.
As of now, the genes that produce this ability are still unknown. The research team is trying to determine which specific gene causes the worms’ regeneration capabilities.
However, once the team specifies the genes, a person with severed limbs could regrow an arm or leg to the right size. They also add that this could help activate genes that simulate complete regeneration in animals that are known to be unable to regrow all tissues, like the zebrafish.
“I really think we as humans have the potential to regenerate, but something isn’t allowing that to happen,” Swalla states. “I believe humans have these same genes, and if we can figure out how to turn on these genes, we can regenerate.”