"Ambystoma Mexicanum" by Stan Shebs / CC BY-SA 3.0

Seeking Superpowers in the Axolotl Genome

Jan 29, 2019

By Steph Yin

The axolotl, sometimes called the Mexican walking fish, is a cheerful tube sock with four legs, a crown of feathery gills and a long, tapered tail fin. It can be pale pink, golden, gray or black, speckled or not, with a countenance resembling the “slightly smiling face” emoji. Unusual among amphibians for not undergoing metamorphosis, it reaches sexual maturity and spends its life as a giant tadpole baby.

According to Aztec legend, the first of these smiling salamanders was a god who transformed himself to avoid sacrifice. Today, wild axolotls face an uncertain future. Threatened by habitat degradation and imported fish, they can only be found in the canals of Lake Xochimilco, in the far south of Mexico City.

Captive axolotls, however, are thriving in labs around the world. In a paper published Thursday in Genome Research, a team of researchers has reported the most complete assembly of DNA yet for the striking amphibians. Their work paves the way for advances in human regenerative medicine.

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One comment on “Seeking Superpowers in the Axolotl Genome”

  • I’m curious… is the failure to metamorphose some form of neotony or paedomorphism?  And, were this DNA study to reveal the gene alteration(s) responsible, what would they look like if they were allowed to undergo metamorphosis?  Is it right to assume that Axolotls have an ancestor that did undergo a more typically amphibian metamorphosis?

    I’m sure that I’m greatly oversimplifying (or misunderstanding) the concept.  But, as I said, just curious.

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