Newts and salamanders are known for their ability to grow new limbs after injury, yet little is known about the inner workings of this ability. Now, a new study led by researchers from the Max Planck Institute in Germany and the University of Dayton, in Ohio, USA, makes a significant step towards understanding this amazing ability. Their findings, published online on February 20 in the journal Genome Biology, may one day lead the way for new approaches to regenerate limbs or organs in non-amphibian species (like us).
The research team, led by Dr. Thomas Braun, identified the RNAs (Ribonucleic Acid) that are unique to salamanders and newts. These RNAs, collectively known as the "transcriptome", use the information embeded in the DNA and translate it into working proteins. Based on these RNAs, the group found 826 proteins that are unique to these organisms.
Working with the red spotted newt, an animal that appears particularly adept at regenerating limbs, hearts and other organs when damaged, they created a new assembly of RNAs from adult and larval animals. They took samples from larval and embryonic organs and undamaged tissues and determined the proteins that were produced. Out of more than 120,000 unique RNAs, they whittled down to the 826 proteins that are found only in newts. Because of newt's ability to regenerate tissue, it is likely that these identified proteins are involved in the regeneration process.
By knowing how these unique proteins are coded, researchers can now identify the genes responsible for their existence, and how they are regulated. This may help answer a key question in regeneration biology is: is it a purely embryonic process, or are there genetic and physiological mechanisms involved? By pointing at the right genes, researchers may be able to find an answer and possibly open the door to regeneration in other species.
Original Article: A de novo assembly of the newt transcriptome combined with proteomic validation identifies new protein families expressed during tissue regeneration. Mario Looso, Jens Preussner, Konstantinos Sousounis, Marc Bruckskotten, Christian S Michel, Ettore Lignelli, Richard Reinhardt, Sabrina Hoeffner, Marcus Krueger, Panagiotis A Tsonis, Thilo Borchardt and Thomas Braun. Genome Biology 2013, 14:R16 doi:10.1186/gb-2013-14-2-r16