Does this salamander have a superpower?

Researcher Susan Bryant discusses the regenerative capabilities of the axolotl.

Vocabulary: regeneration, cell division, blastema, discontinuity, positional information

NGSS: LS1.B: Growth and Development of Organisms, LS4.C: Adaptation, and CC6: Structure and Function. Can be used to build towards HS-LS1–4.

An axolotl, which has the ability to regenerate limbs. Credit: Christian Baker

The axolotl is a Mexican salamander with an incredible ability: Cut its leg off, and the limb will grow right back! How it does this and why humans can’t is still a bit of a mystery. Researchers like Susan Bryant of UC Irvine are studying these amphibians to understand the underlying mechanisms for their miraculous regenerative powers.

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Questions for Students

  • Why might we characterize axolotl unique limb regeneration as “savvy cell division”?
  • Why is a nerve necessary to the new limb creation process? How does this process relate to the function of the nervous system?
  • Susan Bryant’s team created a way to document positional information on an axolotl arm or leg. Why is it important that the researchers have this “map”?

[Read more about axolotls, critically endangered salamanders with some amazing abilities.]