Researchers have found that juvenile alligators can, to some extent, regrow their caudal appendages. According to their analyzes, the regenerated parts could reach a fifth of the total length of their body.
“The spectrum of the regenerative capacity of species is fascinating”
For this study published in the journal Scientific Reports, a team ofArizona State University relied on advanced imaging techniques to determine whether alligators had regenerative tissue similar to that seen in smaller reptile species. If the lizards have detachable tails (a ploy used to evade predators) that they can then repel, the alligators are massive animals, being able to measure more than 4 meters long. The researchers therefore sought to know if this difference in size had repercussions on their regenerative capacities.
” The spectrum of the regenerative capacity of species is fascinating, it is clear that the production of new muscles comes at a high cost. », Declares Jeanne Wilson-Rawls, co-author of the study.
” What makes the alligator interesting, besides its size, is that the part of the tail that grows back shows signs of regeneration and scarring within the same structure. “, highlighted Cindy xu, lead author of the study. ” Regrowth of cartilage, blood vessels, nerves and scales is consistent with previous studies of lizard tail regeneration performed in the laboratory. However, we were surprised to find connective scar tissue in place of skeletal muscle in regenerated alligator tails.. “
A central skeleton of cartilage surrounded by connective tissue
Alligators and humans both belong to the group of amniotes, related species that have an equivalent backbone or dorsal bone structure. Therefore, a better understanding of the natural regenerative processes of these species could allow us to better heal and repair our own bodies after injury.
By studying the anatomy and tissue organization of regrowing alligator tails, the team discovered that they consisted of a central skeleton of cartilage surrounded by connective tissue. The caudal appendages were completely supplied with blood vessels and possessed nerve bundles, which meant they were fully functional. According to the team, the scale and complexity of these regenerated parts not only helps to better understand the regeneration processes of large amniotes, but also sheds light on their history.
The team notes that alligators and birds separated from dinosaurs around 250 million years ago, but only the latter have lost this ability to regenerate. It remains to be defined precisely when this change occurred and its reason, knowing that there is currently no example of a regenerated tail dinosaur in the fossil record.
Of course, the most immediate concern is the possible practical utility of these findings. According to the team, these lay the foundation for new therapies to treat wounds or treat diseases like arthritis. ” If we understand how different animals are able to repair and regenerate their tissues, this knowledge can then be used to develop new medical therapies. », Concludes Rebecca fisher, co-author of the study.