Voss's research focuses on axolotls, an unusual type of salamander that lives wild only in one tiny part of Mexico.Unlike most salamanders, which undergo a metamorphosis from larva to adult, axolotls retain their juvenile form throughout their entire lifespan, a trait known as neotony or paedomorphism.But the main reason that axolotls are among the most-studied salamanders in the world is their amazing ability to regenerate a variety of body parts."It’s hard to find a body part they can’t regenerate," Voss says.Could that knowledge someday be used to develop new therapies to help people heal?Four professors in the University of Kentucky Department of Biology — Randal Voss, Jeramiah Smith, Ann Morris, and Ashley Seifert — are undertaking the basic scientific research needed to begin to answer these and other questions.
An oft-repeated maxim in biology classrooms is that "regeneration recapitulates development." So, if our retinas are so similar in their development, how is it that zebrafish can regenerate retinal cells and we can't? The answer is suspended between between two distinct possibilities.It’s sort of like the kid-in-the-dinosaur-museum thing." Smith also works closely with Stephen Randal Voss, sequencing the genome of salamanders, an amphibian group that veered off our common vertebrate path about 300 million years ago.Though we share many of the same genes, the salamander genome is massive compared to our own — about 10 times as large."One is that at some point, everybody had the ability to regenerate, and that ability in certain lineages was eventually lost," Morris said."So, perhaps all the mechanism is still there in the genome, and it just needs to be reactivated.