The axolotl is a critically endangered salamander with a charming smile and a fascinating developmental trait. Even at full maturity, the amphibian keeps some characteristics of its juvenile (“tadpole”) stage. This is called “neoteny.” One of the most intriguing neotenic traits is this salamander’s ability to produce new tissues as if from its embryonic stage. For example, if the axolotl (pronounced ACK-suh-LAH-tuhl) loses a limb in an injury, it will actually regrow another—just like the first!
Scientists closely studying the axolotl believe that it holds in its DNA the secret to limb regeneration, not just for amphibians but one day for larger creatures as well. These scientists even say that human limb regeneration is no longer a question of “What if…?” but “When…?”
Joshua Currie is a biologist at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute in Toronto. He says the axolotl’s “regenerative powers are just incredible.” He has researched amphibian regeneration since 2011. A January 2020 Smithsonian Magazine article reported on Currie’s findings. The axolotl can perfectly regenerate not just legs but also internal organs such as lungs—and even brain and spinal cord tissues.
In the salamander, the replacement parts repeatedly regrow to just the correct size and placement. After several weeks, there won’t even be a scar or seam to show where the injury initially existed. The repair is astonishingly perfect and complete.
Scientists have identified the materials that the axolotl produces to rebuild itself. One is called epithelium. It is a type of skin tissue. The other is the versatile blastema, which is present from the earliest stages of embryos. Blastema can develop into any type of body tissue—muscle, skin, organ, bone. God programs into each creature through DNA how the blastema will mature. As scientists study DNA, they search for the unique markers that God put there to direct these mysterious developments. They hope one day to direct human DNA to similarly kick blastema into action when needed.
Even the most optimistic experts say the reality of human limb or organ regeneration is still many decades away. But better wound or incision healing could be quite close—easily in our lifetimes—from the same processes, just on a smaller scale.
Repairing such catastrophic injuries seems too great to grasp in our minds. How much greater is the work of repairing catastrophically damaged souls? But nothing is too difficult for God. He is making all things new. (Revelation 21:5) When we realize our need for Jesus as Savior, we don’t just receive a new part. We become new creations. (2 Corinthians 5:17)