Science 3 min read

Researchers Discover DNA Switch for Full Body Regeneration

A new study has revealed a method of switching the early growth response of DNA on and off, opening the future possibility of regenerating human body parts with the use of genetic editing.

This new method could open a major avenue towards the full regeneration of body parts. ¦ Pixabay

This new method could open a major avenue towards the full regeneration of body parts. ¦ Pixabay

According to homeostasis principles, the body can spontaneously bring itself back to a state of equilibrium as long as physical, psychological and emotional conditions are conducive.

The ability to repair and regenerate damaged cells has played a critical role in the evolution and survival of pretty much every living organism, including us.

The human body can replace dead cells to heal a wound, for example, or can repair hair and fingernails. Unfortunately though, we can’t regrow lost limbs.

Unlike many animals, our bodies just aren’t as genetically programmed to do that. But now, researchers are closing in on the mystery surrounding body regeneration.

The Regenerative Master Genetic Switch

Some animal species have developed amazing self-repair and regenerative abilities.

Nothing stops axolotls, aquatic salamanders, from regrowing any damaged part of their body, including their brain.

Geckos are notorious for snapping off their tail to fool predators and their ability to grow a new one in just a few weeks.

Some sea animals, like some jellyfish species, can rapidly self-repair after an injury to the point of regenerating their entire body if necessary.

Read More: Breakthrough: Nanotechnology Regenerates Cells of any Kind

Biologists at Harvard University used three-banded panther worms to uncover DNA switches that control genes for whole-body regeneration.

The team found that a section of noncoding DNA activates a “master control gene” called Early Growth Response (EGR). When activated, the EGR gene controls a number of other processes by switching other genes on or off:

“What we found is that this one master gene comes on [and activates] genes that are turning on during regeneration. Basically, what’s going on is the noncoding regions are telling the coding regions to turn on or off, so a good way to think of it is as though they are switches.”

Once panther worms’ regeneration is on, their DNA — usually compact and tightly folded — opens up to make room for new portions to facilitate the process.

According to the team, shedding light on the genome dynamics during regeneration is one of the big findings of this study.

Humans also have an Early Growth Response gene, so why can’t our bodies wholly regenerate like the panther worms?

Harvard researchers think it’s because our genetic wiring is different.

What EGR is talking to in human cells may be different than what it is talking to in the three-banded panther worm.

This study has shown a way to get at this wiring. So we want to figure out what those connections are, and then apply that to other animals, including vertebrates that can only do more limited regeneration.”

Read More: Scientists Create Alien DNA That can Store and Transmit Information

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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