An article published in the journal “Nature Communications” describes the sequencing of the genome of the Iberian ribbed newt, also known as Spanish ribbed newt (Pleurodeles waltl) (photo ©Peter Halasz), a salamander that lives in the Iberian Peninsula and in Morocco. A team of scientists led by Professor András Simon of the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, performed the genetic analysis of this animal finding a family of genes that could provide new clues to its ability to regenerate complex tissues. The team also carried out genetic modification experiments.
The order Urodela includes the amphibians commonly known as newts, axolotl and salamanders. Various species have considerable capacity for regeneration but there’s considerable variability among the various families. These skills are well known and yet the genetic research on them is still limited with the consequence that our understanding of the various regeneration processes is low.
The team led by Professor András Simon analyzed the DNA of the Iberian ribbed newt, which was repeatedly the subject of biological studies in space missions. Various physiological characteristics related to this salamander’s development and pregnancy make it suitable for microgravity research. Despite this interest in this species, this is the first time that a complete sequencing of its DNA has been carried out to analyze it.
After the genetic analysis of the Iberian ribbed newt, the scientists noticed that certain parts of this salamander’s DNA have expanded considerably and are among those that regulate limb regeneration. That’s just one example of what scientists discovered among the approximately 20 billion base pairs that make up that salamander’s DNA, about six times larger than the human one.
Tissue regeneration is the best known characteristic of salamanders but Professor András Simon’s team was also interested in their resistance to the formation of tumors. It was already studied in the past, for example in the influences of the microgravity in the International Space Station on the immune system and the white blood cells of the Iberian ribbed newt, but not from the genetic point of view.
The DNA sequencing of Iberian ribbed newt was a phase of this research, the subsequent one was in experiments of some specific genes modifications to verify the consequences on the regenerative processes and the differences with respect to other species of salamander. The scientists used the CRISPR/Cas9 technique, one of the genetic techniques that are most used in recent years to make changes to an organism’s DNA.
This research is only the beginning of a series of studies that have the ultimate goal of developing new regeneration strategies in humans. This is a very ambitious purpose, especially because it also concerns degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, but it’s one of the new type of biotechnologies being developed to offer new possibilities to manage human beings’ health.