An eye for an eye, a newt for a newt: the genomics of tissue regeneration

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GB logoOn the list of humanity’s priorities, tissue regeneration finds itself near the very top; together with eternal youth and immortality. And, in legends and myths, both heroes and villains – but most commonly monsters – possess an amazing ability to grow back lost organs and limbs.

Myths can have a grain of truth, though. In 2011, Genome Biology published an article describing the transcriptome of the regenerating head of a planarian flatworm, Schmidtea mediterranea. In early 2012, we published another article seeking to unveil the intricacies of regulatory mechanisms governing flatworm regeneration.

Fortunately, we don’t have to look that far down the evolutionary line to find species capable of tissue regeneration.  Much more complex organisms can be found as close by as in our gardens: newts and salamanders are the animals closest to humans with the intrinsic ability to grow parts of their bodies back; as such they make an excellent model for studying tissue regeneration, especially with a view to clinical translation. But these models are problematic in the sense that their genomes are too large to be sequenced by existing technology.

A red-spotted newt

In the February issue of Genome Biology, Thomas Braun and his colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for Heart and Lung Research, Germany, describe the transcriptome of the healthy and regenerating tissues of the newt, Notophthalmus viridescens. Researchers assemble an impressive collection of newt sequencing and proteomic data that is made available to other researchers in the newt-omics database (expect a new and even more interactive release this spring). The approach of transcriptome sequencing augmented by proteomics enables urodele genes to be characterized while sidestepping the problems associated with genome sequencing in these organisms.

The study is not limited to the characterization of the transcriptome – Braun and colleagues also identify a couple hundred of proteins that are specific to urodeles; intriguingly, some of these belong to novel protein families. These data, they predict, could and should be an excellent basis for future mechanistic studies on newt tissue regeneration. What more can we say? Go and tissue regenerate!