Meet the axolotl a Mexican salamander that scientists and the Internet alike love for their amazing ability to regenerate limbs and probably for that derpy. Hi I’m Danielle Defoe and you’re watching Animal Logic axolotls are members of the ambystoma. Today family and are native to a very small region in Mexico axolotls were revered by Aztecs, their capital city was built on islands and the lakes inhabited by the creatures but when the Spanish settled in 1521, they drained the lakes and built their city in its place.

A first step in driving axolotls towards extinction as Mexico City continues to grow and pollute the axolotl. Population is pushed further and further towards the brink. Today they can only be found in the wild in Mexico’s Xochimilco Linc complex near Mexico City. Axolotls are unique among salamanders because they are Neotech which means that they reach adulthood without going through metamorphosis so they retain all of their juvenile features like us Millennials while most salamanders will grow up lose their gills in their dorsal fin as they get bigger and emerge onto land. Axolotls will keep their feathery external gills and remain underwater permanently it is extremely rare but sometimes axolotls will reach maturity and go through metamorphosis but even then they tend to keep to the water. This has been accomplished in the lab by injecting them with a shot of iodine after which they more closely resemble their relatives the tiger salamander axolotls can get pretty big measuring around a foot or 30 centimeters long fully grown. They have long lives around 15 years in the wild but probably the most interesting thing about them is their intense ability to regenerate.

Many amphibians do have the ability to regenerate but axolotls blow the competition out of the water, not only can they perfectly and seemingly endlessly regenerate limbs but they can also regenerate their spinal cord jaw tail and skin all without scarring no matter how many times you cut off their limbs. they’ll grow back perfectly every single time and you wouldn’t even be able to tell that you would cut off their limbs in the first place. You could also even cut out a chunk of their spine come back in a month and a half and there’ll be no worse for wear.

They are also a thousand times more resistant to cancer than any other animal. It works like this after the amputation the cells at the side of the amputation lose their identity so instead of being skin cells or blood cells they become similar to stem cells called pluripotent cells. They’re also able to make any cell or tissue that the body would need to repair itself. In this case they use the pluripotent cells to generate all the cells and tissues needed to create new perfect limbs this phenomenon is a favorite among the scientific community for its potential to help burn victims amputees. And even cancer victim’s scientists have experimented with modifying the genetic makeup of axolotls to include the green fluorescent protein, which is the protein that makes many jellyfish bioluminescent well not just making axolotls look cooler.

The glowing protein allows scientists to see things inside the axolotls that they couldn’t before, for example: they’ll tag cancerous cells with the protein and then they can actually see how it spreads throughout their bodies. Even more interesting is that axolotls have plug-and-play body parts you can amputate one axolotls leg and place it in another axolotl. It’ll attach itself it’s especially interesting because you don’t even need the whole limb just a few cells. If you take cells from a neon axolotl and place them on an amputated body of an albino axolotl, the albino axolotl will actually grow a neon limb. Since their skin is quite translucent you could actually watch the neon green bone grow out of an otherwise white axolotl this has led to some fairly morally compromising work. In a study published in science magazine in 1968 scientists were able to successfully transplant an axolotl head onto the back of another axolotl one subject lived for 65 weeks. After the operation with second head growing right along with the first head.

 

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