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Dr. Rebecca Fisher, University of Arizona – Lizard Tail Regeneration

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Rebecca Fisher of the University of Arizona explains how a species of lizard is able to regenerate their self-amputated tails.

Rebecca Fisher is an associate professor of medical science at the University of Arizona and an associate professor of life sciences at Arizona State University. Her research lab studies the anatomy and evolution of vertebrates. She is currently analyzing the functional anatomy of the tail in green anoles. She holds a Ph.D. from Yale University.

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Dr. Rebecca Fisher – Lizard Tail Regeneration

Anole lizards are the “Darwin’s finches” of the reptiles, with over 400 documented species.  Living in the southeastern US and around the Caribbean basin, anoles occupy a diverse array of microhabitats in the forest canopy and adjacent grasslands.  Anoles are a model for adaptive radiation, with species invading new territory and evolving rapidly to exploit different habitats.  This process has been most clearly documented in island anoles, which exhibit correlations between specific body shapes, behaviors, and microhabitats.

In addition to serving as a model for evolutionary biology, anoles are also excellent animals for studies of regeneration.  Like many other lizard species, anoles are capable of self-amputating their tails to escape predators.  A period of regeneration follows, eventually giving rise to a new tail.  Building on the recent genome sequencing of the green anole, scientists are now poised to investigate the genes and mechanisms responsible for the regeneration of cartilage, muscle, tendon, and nervous tissue.

We’ve assembled an interdisciplinary team of scientists in Arizona to analyze tail regeneration in the green anole and related species.  While the green anole tail consists of interlocking bones and short muscle fibers, the regenerated tail houses a single, cartilaginous rod, with elongated muscles.  As anoles are capable of regenerating a wide array of tissues, such as spinal cord, muscle, and cartilage, studying these processes may lead to future therapies for spinal cord injuries and degenerative diseases such as arthritis.  


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