For centuries, humans have marvelled at lizards’ ability to regrow lost tails. Our fragile bodies just don’t have this same natural capacity for regrowth, but other species’ tricks of regeneration do present a tantalising prospect: if we can understand them, can we harness similar mechanisms ourselves? Zebrafish, for example, can recover from heart injuries in a way humans cannot. The zebrafish heart pictured is well on the way to recovery one week after an injury (bottom), as new cardiomyocytes – heart muscle cells – are generated by nearby cells to replace lost ones. Most of our heart cells don’t have that same instinct to kick into action and produce new material when needed, but recent research suggests that if we can pinpoint the mechanism that prompts it in zebrafish cells, there’s a chance the human equivalents could be encouraged to do the same, meaning broken hearts could heal themselves.
Written by Anthony Lewis
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences (the new name for the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre) the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.