Small reptiles like lizards and geckos are known for their extraordinary ability to regrow their tails, a potentially lifesaving skill in the wild. But it turns out these reptiles are not the only animals in the amniote family with the ability to regenerate appendages.
Researchers were surprised to discover that juvenile alligators also have the ability to regrow their tails up to 9 inches, or up to 18% of their total body length, according to a new study in Scientific Reports.
A team of scientists from Arizona State University and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries used advanced imaging techniques together with time-tested methods of studying anatomy and tissue organization to find that the alligators' regrown tails had a central cartilage skeleton without any bone, exhibiting features of both regeneration and wound repair.
"The regrown skeleton was surrounded by connective tissue and skin but lacked any skeletal muscle (which lizard tails do regenerate with)," Kenro Kusumi, co-senior study author and professor and director of ASU's School of Life Sciences and associate dean in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, told CNN.
Even a muscle-less regrown tail is vital for the massive predators, Kusumi added.
The team of researchers says that understanding these limitations may help in developing regenerative therapies in humans.
"We know that humans -- who are incapable of regenerating -- have the same cells and pathways being used to regenerate in these other animals," Jeanne Wilson-Rawls, co-senior study author and associate professor with ASU's School of Life Sciences, told CNN.
"If this very large long-limbed animal has this ability, can we take advantage of this to help people who have lost limbs or burn victims who need skin regeneration?"
Kusumi quickly added that this isn't something that is going to happen tomorrow, but maybe by the end of the century.