The humble green anole has but a few claims to fame: it was featured on the cover of the very first Animorphs book, and it can self-amputate and regrow its tail after coming face to face with a predator. It's that latter ability that's tickled the scientific community's fancy (though c'mon, Animorphs was really good), and now researchers claim to have cracked the genetic code behind the anole's little trick. Turns out, the key to the anole's near-Whovian regeneration ability are 326 genes that come into play once the tail has been detached, and Arizona State University's Dr. Kenro Kusumi thinks a better understanding of that process might ultimately lead to a way to regenerate lost or damaged human tissue.
"By following the genetic recipe for regeneration that is found in lizards, and then harnessing those same genes in human cells, it may be possible to regrow new cartilage, muscle or even spinal cord in the future," he said. Here's one thing to keep in mind, though: Yes, this little lizard can regrow its tail, but it's not quite the same as the original. Scientists (also from ASU, go figure) learned a few years back that the replacement tail has shorter muscle fibers than the original, to say nothing of the tube of cartilage where the vertebrae used to be. That might be a tough break for an anole recovering from a predator attack, but this breakthrough could mean we're approaching a future where birth defects and once-debilitating injuries become temporary setbacks instead of lifelong hindrances.