Young alligators can regrow their tails, scientists discover
An alligator remains idling at the Encontro das Aguas park at the Pantanal wetlands near Pocone, Mato Grosso state, Brazil, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)
TORONTO -- Researchers in the United States have uncovered that much like lizards, young alligators also have the ability to regrow their tails up to approximately 23 centimetres, or 18 per cent of their total body length.
Scientists from Arizona State University (ASU) and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries used advanced imaging techniques and tissue samples to examine the anatomy of American alligators, specifically the structure of their regrown tails.
The team found that these new tails had a central skeleton composed of cartilage and were surrounded by connective tissues that were interlaced with blood vessels and nerves. Their research suggests that regrown tails give alligators a functional advantage in their swamp-like habitats.
"What makes the alligator interesting, apart from its size, is that the regrown tail exhibits signs of both regeneration and wound healing within the same structure," Cindy Xu, a PhD graduate from ASU's molecular and cellular biology program and lead author of the paper, said in a statement. "Regrowth of cartilage, blood vessels, nerves, and scales were consistent with previous studies of lizard tail regeneration from our lab and others. However, we were surprised to discover scar-like connective tissue in place of skeletal muscle in the regrown alligator tail.”
She added, “Future comparative studies will be important to understand why regenerative capacity is variable among different reptile and animal groups."
One thing alligators, lizards and humans have in common is that they all belong to a group of animals with backbones called amniotes. Scientists say this new research has given them even more information about amniotes, after previously discovering that lizards can also regrow their tails.
"If we understand how different animals are able to repair and regenerate tissues, this knowledge can then be leveraged to develop medical therapies," said Rebecca Fisher, co-author and professor with the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix and ASU's School of Life Sciences.
Researchers hope their findings will lead to more scientific exploration and help lead discoveries of new therapeutic approaches to repairing injuries and treating diseases such as arthritis.