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Electricity can provide the initial spark for the regeneration of damaged animal tissues, according to research reported today (February 28) in the journal Development. Harvard University biologists have succeeded in manipulating the electrical fields present in tissues to regenerate the amputated tails of frog tadpoles at a stage of development where such regeneration does not occur naturally.
"This gives us a whole new set of control knobs on cells," said Michael Levin, who led the research. Electrical fields help "control cell identity, cell number, position and movement, which is relevant to everything from embryonic development to regeneration to cancer and almost any biomedical phenomenon you could imagine."
Electrical currents applied to wounds have long been known to enhance regeneration of lost limbs and severed spinal cords in a variety of species from fish to mammals. As part of the current study, Levin's team screened Xenopus laevis tadpoles with various ion-transporter blockers to identify transporters important for tail regeneration. The experiment pinpointed the V-ATPase H+ pump.