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Scientists grow lizard’s tail with stem cell technology

5 Nov. 2021 – Scientists use no editing on lizard embryonic use stem selle to help adult lizards regenerate severed tails, making them the closest species to humans to regenerate a lost appendage.

Lizards have a reputation for dropping their tails out of self-defense when attacked, which distracts predators long enough to escape. The lizards can live another day to fight, but the new tail they grow is not quite the same as the old one. It is a cartilaginous tube without a spine and the nerves needed for most movements.

Now, researchers have used gene-modified stem cells for tail replacement in a full-fledged female gecko, which persuades them to generate new tails with nerves and bones, according to findings published in Nature communication.

During original tail development, researchers found, specific embryonic stem cells drive the production of a complete tail, using different signals to promote cartilage growth along the bottom, but bone and nerve tissue along the top of the tail.

For a tail replacement, however, adult versions of these stem cells actively indicate to block bone and nerve formation and only encourage cartilage development. The result is a cartilaginous appendage with limited movement.

When researchers blocked these adult stem cell signals, the lizards still did not regrow a complete tail. The implantation of the embryonic stem cells in adult tail stumps also had no effect. Bone and nerve tissue development were still blocked.

However, the scientists were not completely stunned. They turned to no-editing tools and produced embryonic cells that could not respond to signals to block bone and nerve tissue growth. With these processed cells implanted, the lizards grew back tails with bones, nerves and cartilage.

It is far from certain that this approach could lead to regrowth of attachments in other species, including humans. But it does show how understanding these early processes in development can contribute to the recovery toolkit for adults.

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