If there is one thing everyone knows about the folks at Harvard, it is that they are are really smart. They have managed to prove that once again, as a study conducted at Harvard University has made a key discovery to unlocking the secret of regeneration in certain animals. As most of us know, certain animals like salamanders or starfish can regenerate their leg or even entire body if necessary. The results of this Harvard study claim that there is a noncoding master control gene, called Early Growth Response (EGR) that turns key genes on and off to initiate regeneration. This study was performed on three-banded panther worms, shown below, which are capable of almost complete regeneration. The EGR flips on the switches in coding regions and stimulates a change in shape of the genome, allowing previously inaccessible genes and areas on the DNA to be turned on for regeneration. This EGR gene is necessary for regeneration to occur, as it cannot happen without this EGR turning on other necessary genes. However, just the presence of the gene alone does not lead to regenerative abilities, as human beings possess the EGR gene but, obviously, cannot regenerate our limbs. This is thought to be because EGR turns on different genes in humans and essentially serves a completely different purpose.
Although this new information cannot be applied to regeneration in humans at the moment, I still believe this is a great scientific breakthrough. I found it interesting that the key to regeneration was actually in the introns of the worm DNA, as we have always been told that the purpose of these intron sequences that do not code for anything and are not expressed is unknown. Knowing how big a role these introns play in something as complex and crucial as regeneration may lead to more discoveries regarding introns in humans and other organisms. Furthermore, while we may never be able to regenerate entire limbs, this discovery may aid us in our research on organ regeneration or the regeneration of other smaller things. This may allow us to better combat cancer and reverse organ damage and brain damage. One other really interesting fact that I took away from this research was that the genome is more of a dynamic shape than a set one, as different areas and sections of DNA can be exposed or hidden depending on the presence of EGR.