A new study revealed that animals that can regenerate specific parts of their bodies do that thanks to the so-called early growth response gene. In humans, it is responsible for cellular regeneration, but a junk DNA section controls this switch, and it could help humans regrow limbs, too, in the future.
Nature is amazing! It allows many animals to regenerate parts of their bodies that have been damaged in fights with predators or even lost them in other ways such as being cut. Spiders can regrow missing legs or parts of legs, the amphibious salamander can regrow a lost tail to full length, sea stars can regenerate their arms and sometimes their whole bodies, and the list could go on.
How is limb regeneration possible?
Harvard University scientists discovered a section of non-coding or junk DNA in three-banded panther worms that controls the activation of a gene called early growth response (EGR). It seems that without this gene, animals are not able to regrow parts of their bodies.
“We were able to decrease the activity of this gene, and we found that if you don’t have EGR, nothing happens,” said Srivastava, an assistant professor of organismic and evolutionary biology at Harvard.
Will humans be able to regrow limbs?
Unfortunately, it seems that regrowing limbs will not be possible very soon because even though people carry the early growth response (EGR), right now it is only useful for repairing cells that are stressed.
The study has shown for now only how to get to the wiring of EGR in worms, and the scientists think that genes are wired in a different way when it comes to humans. “It’s a very natural question to think if a gecko can do this, why can’t I? The answer may be that if EGR is the power switch, we think the wiring is different. What EGR is talking to in human cells may be different than what it is talking to in the three-banded panther worm”, Srivastava said.
Maybe in a distant future, people will be able to regrow limbs, as well as other parts of the human body, thanks to genetic editing of the junk DNA section responsible for the activation of other functions of the EGR gene.