The Mexican axolotl: why is this amphibian unique?

Although it is is in critical danger of extinction, it has the largest genome that has been able to sequence up to now, approximately 10 times larger than that of humans

The Mexican axolotl: why is this amphibian unique?

The axolotl is a surprising animal; its regenerative capacities and its wide genome have made it a unique animal, although at the beginning it was confused with the larvae of tiger salamanders. These animals reach about 25 cm in adulthood and rarely reach more than 30 cm, have the appearance of a giant tadpole with legs and tail with a smooth skin and soft to the touch. However, what makes these animals really interesting is the ability to regenerate their damaged tissues or amputated organs, in perfect conditions and with their muscles, bones, tendons, and nerves in their correct place after a couple of weeks. This wonderful property is due to the enormous size of its genome, since it has about thirty-two thousand pairs of DNA bases, which is more than ten times the size of the human genome.

Even more impressive is their ability to repair their spinal cord, so if they suffer damage, this animal can recover 100 percent as if it had not suffered any damage, a unique ability in the animal kingdom. Researchers at the Molecular Pathology Research Institute (IMP) in Vienna have achieved using state-of-the-art sequencing techniques specifically designed to carry out the study, analysis and manipulation of axolotl genes, which in the near future it will allow to use these genomes in diverse fields like medicine, pharmaceutical and genetic engineering, among others.

The future for the Axolotl

Dr. Elly Tanaka, who works hard to conserve this species and has managed to get one of the laboratories with the largest number of cultivated axolotls, since she believes that "This finding will be a powerful tool to study the molecular basis of limb regeneration and other forms of regeneration", as explained in the article in the journal Nature. Tanaka says that the technique is as promising as the species itself and with so much effort put into the understanding of this particular species as a goal: "We want to understand the huge changes in RNA and proteins that produce cells to change from an adult to a mother".

The researcher answers the question "How does a wound cause such a big change?" by explaining "We cannot understand that without knowing what different parts of the genome are used to alter how cells behave". It is the first time that a genome of this type of salamander has been sequenced. The reason why it had not been done is that it has many repeated parts, this required an immense computational effort, with techniques developed specifically for the analysis.

At this moment, the researchers work to continue in the identification of the genes that are part of the regenerative process, whether or not they are exclusive to the axolotl, in this adventure the road to travel is as long as the 150 years of research on this particular specimen and has become a new milestone in the history of modern science, so in many cases it is compared to what was once the decoding of the human genome.


Latin American Post | Sergio Buitrago

Copy edited by Laura Rocha Rueda

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