It’s common knowledge that certain animals such as lizards and octopi can regenerate missing limbs. Regeneration is an incredible skill that seems almost magical. But what is the science behind this phenomenon? And is it possible to extend this “magic” to humans?
According to Scientific American, a protein called acetylcholinesterase (AChE) plays a major role in the regeneration process of an octopus’ limbs. The level of activity of AChe in muscles and nervous system components seem to spike during the process. Eventually, however, they lower back to normal levels after the limb is good as new.
In lizards, the process is different. According to a study by Arizona State University, “lizards have satellite cells that can grow and develop into skeletal muscle and other tissues.” These cells are also present in the human body, albeit without the regeneration mechanism. The process of regeneration in lizard tails isn’t perfect, however, as the new tail isn’t perfect. Lizards also store important fats and energy, meaning that losing a tail isn’t ideal for survivability.
So can a human regenerate our anatomies like lizards and octopi? Humans already technically have the ability to do this, as they can replace a “superficial layer of skin” (Live Science). The human body also has the ability to regenerate 90% of the liver. Obviously, this is nothing like regrowing an entire limb, which includes various types of tissue, like bone, muscle, and nerves. Furthermore, humans are mammals, utterly different from octopi and lizards, which suggests that large-scale regeneration is not feasible for us. However, stem cells might hold the key to regenerating the limbs of mammals (Business Insider). Stem cell research for regenerating amputations is still very early in development, but we could very well regrow arms in the distant future.
In any case, regeneration is an incredible feat of biology, no matter how big or small. If we could harness this ability, it would do wonders for the medical world.