How Lizards Regrow Their Tails

By Carl Engelking | August 20, 2014 4:04 pm

anole lizard

The green anole lizard is master of a well-known trick: it can disconnect its tail in a jam and grow a new one. It’s not only impressive, but enviable: regrowing broken or missing body parts has long been the dream of regenerative medicine. Now scientists have unlocked the secret to the lizard’s regenerative abilities, and it lies, in large part, within genes that humans share with the reptiles.

Finding the Recipe

Several other animals like salamanders and fish have regenerative abilities, but the anole lizard does it in a different way. Its pattern of tissue growth is distributed throughout the tail, whereas other animals focus their growth at the tip. And lizards are the most closely-related animals to humans that can regenerate entire appendages.

To inspect the genetic activity in a regenerating tail, researchers removed mid-growth tails from five lizards. They cut each tail into sections, and conducted a genetic analysis of each segment. They pinpointed 326 genes that were turned on in specific sections of the regenerating tail — 302 of which are similar to genes mammals also have. Researchers published their findings Wednesday in the journal PLoS ONE.

Targets for Medicine

Since humans and anole lizards are working with a similar toolbox, researchers believe the lizard’s novel pathways are potential targets for regenerative therapies in humans.

“By following the genetic recipe for regeneration that is found in lizards, and then harnessing those same genes in human cells, it may be possible to regrow new cartilage, muscle, or even spinal cord in the future,” lead author Knro Kusumi said in a statement.

But until then — we’re going to go ahead and advocate that you still pay full attention when operating the table saw.


Photo credit: Jill Lang/Shutterstock

  • Tosin Otitoju

    :) I love these articles.

    • Diana Wilson

      How about regeneration of neural tissue in the spine?

  • Metalhead Nick

    Don’t we already know that we possess regenerative genes in our finger tips? This is why people can grow back the very end of their finger. Children have more and have been documented to grow larger segment to of their fingers back. My question is what’s new here? That the tail grows from more than just the tip? If there’s something new here, someone please share, I would be very interested.

  • kennedy4kk

    Finding the chemical locks and keys used to unlock those genes to stimulate growth of a lost tail will be a scientific leap. It appears, if there are locks to these genes, then they are only found in the tail part but not in other appendages like the leg. Some Regeneration of damaged tissue is common in animals and plants and even other living forms…. some of this regenerative ability is always their maybe from residual stem cells

  • baruchatta

    Tell me why anyone would want to grow a tail?

  • douglas rivera cruz

    I cut half of my left hand dumb finger when I was a kid. The doctor back then wanted to shop it off completely but my mom wouldn’t let him! My finger grew back with time but I have numbness sensation at the tip of it. If we humans have that ability why not focus on unlocking the genes in our bodies to do a complete regeneration of a specific body part and not just our finger tips or nails?! That’ll be something. I rather have it from humans than from a lizard. Imagine if it goes wrong, instead of growing the body part I need I grow a tail! Dam! That would hurt to sit down! Jajaja

  • TeeGeeRoo

    Dr. Curt Connors regrew his right arm using this idea in 1963. Unfortunately, he chose to test his theory on himself before the side effects were known.


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