Right Turn: A tail is a tail. Or is it?

Author: Lisa Willemse, 04/26/13

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Entire limb or organ regeneration is held out to be the holy grail of regenerative medicine. As an example, we look to certain reptiles such as salamanders, geckos and lizards, which have the incredible ability to regrow limbs or tails. Lots has been written on what we currently know about limb regeneration and whether it could ever be possible in humans — in a nutshell, the creature, let’s say a salamander, is able to de-differentiate some of it’s cells into less specialized stem cells, which can then direct the regeneration of bone, muscle, nerve and other tissues needed to regrow the limb.

However, it seems that when it comes to tail regrowth in some lizards, the cells take a short cut and do not regenerate all the original tissues. Cartilage tubes replace the original vertebrae, and long muscle tissue replaces shorter muscle fibres. Since the dropped tail is a defence mechanism for the animal, perhaps it’s a matter of the speed of replacement rather than functionality — I have no doubt this is a topic of current research. In the meantime, here’s a video produced by Slate that provides a (somewhat cheesy) look at the process.

Our regular feature, Right Turn, showcases the “lighter” side of stem cells and regenerative medicine. Every Friday, we will bring you cartoons, photos, videos and other content that may be just as thought provoking as the written submissions that you are used to finding here, but they definitely won’t be blogs.

As always, we welcome your feedback and we also welcome suitable submissions. Be creative! Use the right (!) side of your brain. Make us laugh! Let’s see if we can make this new direction a positive one for all of us. Send your submission to info(at)ccrm.ca.

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Lisa Willemse

Lisa Willemse

Lisa is a science communicator with 15+ years' experience in the fields of regenerative medicine, child development and technology. She launched this blog (first as the Stem Cell Network Blog) in 2009, and served as co-editor until April 2015. She is currently the Senior Communications Advisor for the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine and has recently contributed to Motherboard, Science Borealis and the Genome Alberta and Canadian Blood Services blogs. Follow her on Twitter and Medium @WillemseLA.
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