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Scientists Regrow Chicken Wing 124

An anonymous reader writes "Unlike salamanders and lizards, most animals have lost the ability to replace missing limbs. But a research team in San Diego has been able to regenerate a wing in a chick embryo — a species not known to be able to regrow limbs — suggesting the potential for such regeneration exists innately in all vertebrates, including humans." From the article: "Manipulating Wnt signaling in humans is, of course, not possible at this point, Belmonte says, but hopes that these findings may eventually offer insights into current research examining the ability of stem cells to build new human body tissues and parts. For example, he said Wnt signaling may push mature cells go back in time and 'dedifferentiate' into stem-like cells, in order to be able to then differentiate once more, producing all of the different tissues needed to build a limb."
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Scientists Regrow Chicken Wing

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  • The ability to regenerate limbs is a great advantage. Why would birds and mammals have lost this ability via evolution?
    • Re:Deevolution? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Solder Fumes ( 797270 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @01:50AM (#16894026)
      Maybe the ability to have consequences for being stupid enough to get your leg taken off is a net positive for a species, though it's an obvious negative for an individual? I have no idea. That would be like a meta-evolution there, and kind of anthropomorphises the theory.
      • Re:Deevolution? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by RsG ( 809189 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @04:01AM (#16894524)
        The explanation that I am familiar with (and if there are any evolutionary biologists present, feel free to correct me) is that regeneration is too time consuming for a warm blooded animal.

        With a reptile or amphibian, the wounded individual can afford to lose the weeks or more of downtime while their wounds or missing limbs regenerate. With a mammal or bird, the constant need for food to fuel a warm blooded metabolism wouldn't give a wounded individual time to heal in the same fashion; instead of regeneration, we scar instead. To use an technological metaphor, mammals slap a patch on the wound for faster recovery, while reptiles take the time to do a thorough repair job.

        In any case, in the wild complete loss of limb would almost always be fatal for a mammal (barring infection or blood loss, you might live long enough to starve to death), so faster, incomplete healing via scarring is going to be good enough for most of the injuries we'd have a chance to recover from. We trade the ability to recover fully for the ability to recover quickly.

        Today of course we no longer die as easily from our wounds, or from the inability to fend for ourselves after being crippled, so we have a vested interest in reworking this process. If we could induce regeneration in amputees for example, we could put them in a hospital for however long it takes to grow back and regain the use of their limbs - something we never could have done in our evolutionary history.
        • I don't really buy that argument. It seems that a VERY slow regeneration would not be a huge energy drain, but would be advantageous assuming the animal could survive for months or even longer during regeneration. It would be better than no regeneration at all.
          • Re:Deevolution? (Score:4, Informative)

            by RsG ( 809189 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @05:48AM (#16894848)
            It isn't a question of it being an energy drain, it's a question of how long the injury affects you. If it's a choice between getting hurt then regenerating over a period of weeks (during which the wound will affect your ability to function), and getting hurt then healing with scarring over a period of days (thus shortening the vulnerable period), then the latter makes more sense for us. The former makes more sense for reptiles, who can go for weeks to months without food, which we obviously cannot. Remember that doing the job right takes time, whereas a quick and dirty fix does not.

            Of course, in reality it probably isn't a clear cut either/or scenario, but more likely a spectrum ranging from one extreme to the other (faster healing versus complete healing). In that sense, we do regenerate (our wounds heal, don't they?), we just don't regrow lost limbs, or heal without permanent marks.
            • by jc42 ( 318812 )
              As an interesting aside, the people looking at the genes behind regeneration and scarring have explained that they are basically the same set of genes. What Ma Nature did was to "retarget" the regeneration mechanism, tweaking it to give us a quick-and-dirty mode that isn't quite healing or regeneration, but which quickly seals over a wound with scar tissue.

              This isn't really good news for us, because it means that we can't just reactivate the original genes. They aren't there any more; they've been modifie
        • by ghyd ( 981064 )
          I cannot imagine the sensation of regenerating a limb, over maybe years. Strange thought.
        • by Maian ( 887886 )
          Not an evolutionary biologist, but I've taken evo classes before and we had to read a paper concerning this very topic. You pretty much nailed it.
        • I would propose that it may have something to do with cancer. Having a system in place capable of emulating fetal development in the adult, especially a system that would have to be designed to interact with adult tissue would open up a slew of potential places for growth to get out of control in response to injury or aberrant activation.
      • The explanation is simply that birds and other animals that evolved from the leg-losers, don't frequently lose legs, hence this ability is far from being critical for survival, and unused biological abilities wither over time because alterations which don't sport that ability survive just fine.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Monkeys!!! ( 831558 )
      It's possible that they never had the ability as environmental influences didn't lead to regeneration being a evolutionary edge.

      Lizards on the other hand probably had a different evolutionary environment where regeneration lead to an increase in survival.

      Then again, I'm a business student so chances are I'm wrong :)

      • by x2A ( 858210 )
        "so chances are I'm wrong :)"

        Is that what they teach you in business school? :-p

        • No they teach us that you can never be wrong, merely "uninformed" or that it's "not part of your department".

          Truthfully, they do actually teach you how to ensure that your accounts are never wrong in the first year accounting unit I took. A whole lecture was devoted to what they called "Creative Accounting". Covered various nasty tricks to ensure that your books balanced the way management dictated they balance. All legal of course :)
    • The most likely reason is the metabolic cost - most warm-blooded animals can't sit around in the sun for three months, using all their energy to regrow a limb.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Kelson ( 129150 ) *
      Lizards could have picked up the ability after birds and mammals split off from reptiles. IANA paleontologist, of course, so I have no idea when lizards picked up the ability.

      Alternatively, it could simply not have been useful enough for the early mammals and birds. Selection pressure only applies to things that increase your ability to reproduce. (Survive to reproductive age, find a mate, and produce viable offspring.) And if, say, flight or fur proved to be more advantageous than regenerating a tail,
      • I really love how the article spells DARPA as Darpa, throught the entire article. Tiny little nitpick error.
    • Regeneration in mice (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Harmonious Botch ( 921977 ) * on Saturday November 18, 2006 @02:08AM (#16894112) Homepage Journal
      Ellen Heber-Katz, a professor at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, was working with mice that had been genetically engineered to develop lupus when she noticed that some of their ears looked weird. She had punched holes in them so she could separate her control from her treatment groups in an experiment. But the holes quickly grew shut without a trace -- not even a hint of a scar.

      The missing ear holes confused her research at the time, but the phenomenon launched a whole new career for Katz.

      She and her colleagues wanted to find out if other parts of these mice, known as the MRL strain, would also regenerate. So they performed some tests: They snipped off the tip of a tail, severed a spinal cord, injured the optic nerve and damaged various internal organs.

      All of the injuries healed, even the severed spinal cord. The results caused Heber-Katz to shift her research from autoimmune disease to regenerative medicine.

      Now, thanks to Darpa's call for grant applications in regeneration, scientists all over the country from various disciplines are working together on the MRL mouse...

      More at,718 17-1.html?tw=wn_story_page_next1 []
      • by Xemu ( 50595 )
        They snipped off the tip of a tail, severed a spinal cord, injured the optic nerve and damaged various internal organs.

        Sounds like the script of a Tarantino movie...
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Dunbal ( 464142 )
          They snipped off the tip of a tail, severed a spinal cord, injured the optic nerve and damaged various internal organs.

          Sounds like the script of a Tarantino movie...

                Kill Bill meets Resident Evil! Everyone knows you have to shoot those mice IN THE BRAIN so that they die...
      • That story was on slashdot a while back 1/0035245&tid=99&tid=14 [] and they've identifed the regeneration gene in flatworms as well. 7/0559200&tid=191&tid=14 []
      • I'd rather have Quad Damage, if you don't mind.
    • Re:Deevolution? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by dasunt ( 249686 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @02:42AM (#16894258)
      The ability to regenerate limbs is a great advantage. Why would birds and mammals have lost this ability via evolution?

      In coding, each feature has a cost associated with it. Nothing is free. A feature will result in the combination of one or more of the following: more design/coding time, higher memory use, more CPU use, a higher chance of bugs, etc.

      Evolution is the same.

      For some creatures, the advantages are outweighed by the disadvantages.

      For other creatures, the disadvantages are outweighed by the advantages. For many creatures, perhaps regenerating the limb isn't that useful -- the biology of the animal might mean that the loss of a limb is general fatal due to blood loss or infection (assuming the animal survives the accident/attack, which may be unlikely).

      In addition, just because a feature may be a net advantage for a creature doesn't mean that it will magically appear. Genetic mutation is a crapshoot. Regeneration might have been perfected after the split from the decendents of other animals. Or perhaps the common ancestor of (say) salamanders and mammals was capable of generation, but after the split happened, regeneration had too high of a cost for the line that lead to mammals, and the genetic code was lost or adapted for some feature that was more useful.

      I hope that explanation helps.

      • by Lux ( 49200 )
        Well, genetic coding is pretty cheap in eukaryotes (most of our genetic code doesn't actually *do* anything as far as we can tell) and we aren't designed, so I don't think I buy your theory.

        I posit that regeneration is not a selective advantage for most vertebrates. If a "feature" does not have the net result of fostering [more] progeny, then it is not a selective advantage. If a proto-chicken loses a wing or a leg in the wild, it's gonna die *long* before it grows back and benefits from the regrowth. He
        • Re:Deevolution? (Score:5, Informative)

          by Dunbal ( 464142 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @07:56AM (#16895216)
          most of our genetic code doesn't actually *do* anything as far as we can tell

                Emphasis mine. Just because we don't know what "junk DNA" is for doesn't mean it's not useful. When we manage to build a cell without junk DNA and have it work perfectly, we'll be able to prove that there's no use to it. It might even just be there for padding, like the polystyrene pellets in a box. Just because you throw them out right away doesn't mean there's no use to them - they protect what you really needed to protect inside the box. The more junk you have, the more likely that mutation is going to happen in a "junky" area rather than the genes you actually need...
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by jc42 ( 318812 )
            Just because we don't know what "junk DNA" is for doesn't mean it's not useful.

            Researchers are starting to point this out.

            A recent example: The sequencing of the DNA of the domestic chicken found a 20,000-base-pair "non-coding" (i.e., "junk") sequence that is very nearly identical with a sequence in human DNA. For such a long sequence to be preserved is highly unlikely unless it has a strong adaptive advantage. We don't have any idea what it does, but the only reasonable conclusion is that it's very impo
      • Scarring (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        I don't remember where I read it (probably in another /. post), but the ability to regrow limbs and the ability to build scar tissue are mutually exclusive. Mammals, what with our speedy metabolism's constant need for food, generally cannot spare the time or energy that a reptile or amphibian can to regrow a missing limb or tail, and instead build scar tissue over the wound as sort of a "quick-fix". Evolutionarily speaking, the ability to heal quickly is more favorable than the ability to regrow a limb by
    • by euniana ( 878775 )

      Doctor Connors [], anyone?
    • by Dunbal ( 464142 )
      Why would birds and mammals have lost this ability via evolution?

      Because there's not much advantage to growing back a limb when you've already been eaten. This also makes it rather hard to pass your genes on... Consider a bird that has lost a wing. How likely is this animal to survive a second attack by a predator? The same applies to a quadruped with 3 legs. Or a fish with a missing fin.

      The lizards are an exception. Losing their tail is a distraction to the preda
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by osgeek ( 239988 )
      RTF: The same process that encourages regeneration also causes cancer. Cancer is such a huge problem that it counteracts the obvious advantages of long life and limb regeneration.

      Once we figure out better ways to control cancer outbreaks in our cells, amazing opportunities to manipulate our bodies will become available to us.

      Understanding and controlling cancer is the key to everything.
    • You realize this is the Holy Grail for the Hooters chain. No longer need they have to have guilty consciences about the millions of now-wingless chickens they massacred just so beer-drinking guys can stare at great boobs, while eating Spicy Buffalo Wings.
  • by Monkeys!!! ( 831558 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @01:47AM (#16894000) Homepage
    New KFC Neverending bucket of chicken!

    For when just one heart bypass won't do.

    *mmmmm neverending chicken wings*
  • Sliding scale (Score:5, Informative)

    by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @01:52AM (#16894042) Homepage Journal

    From TFA:

    noted that if Wnt signaling is activated for too long of a period in these animals, cancer results. "This has to be done in a controlled way, with just a few cells for a specific amount of time," he says. "The fact is that this pathway is involved in cell proliferation, whether it is to generate or regenerate limbs, control stem cells, or produce cancer."

    Turn it down to 0 and you eventually die of old age. Turn it up to 11 and you die of cancer. If the human equivalent can be found we may have a whole class of very old people who debate ways of achieving the right balance.

    If something like this is under trial in 20 years or so I will definitely be giving it a go.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Considering that even God apparently can't heal amputees [].
  • No results found for Wnt. Did you mean Ownt?
  • by entroemcee ( 1028946 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @02:11AM (#16894128) Homepage
    john wayne bobbitt lets out a sigh of relief.........
  • Hooters (Score:2, Funny)

    by MDMurphy ( 208495 )
    I'm getting tired of big companies and "scientific papers" motivated by purely corporate gain.

    No global warming: Oil Companies
    Pirate DVDs fund terrorists: MPAA

    Now we have the Salk Institute, not 5 minutes drive from a Hooters, searching the endless source of chicken wings.

    • Now we have the Salk Institute, not 5 minutes drive from a Hooters, searching the endless source of chicken wings.

      What do we have that is more than 5 minutes drive from a Hooters? Hell, even churches and universities are usually within a 5 minute drive of a Hooters.

  • For the love of God don't put any of these near stoners!
  • Until Wingstreet or Hooters invests in this?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Now we need to genetically modify chickens with genes from a variety of peppers, onions, garlic, herbs .. etc so that they have sweat glands that produce barbecue sauce.
  • Scientists Regrow Chicken Wing

    What happened to the scientists' original wing, and how did they grow one on themselves?
    • If I were a scientist, and had a chicken wing on me, I don't think I'd WANT it to grow back if it got cut off.
  • By changing the expression of a few genes, you can change the ability of a vertebrate to regenerate their limbs, rebuilding blood vessels, bone, muscles, and skin - everything that is needed."

    Is that list supposed to be everything that's needed or did he just stop enumerating? Because TFA doesn't mention nerves and if they hook up properly at the point where the nerves were severed; I'm not sure I'd rather have a new limp arm than no arm at all.
  • by pipingguy ( 566974 ) * on Saturday November 18, 2006 @02:27AM (#16894212)
    Cue the "grow bigger, extra pen1s NOW!" junk emails in about 5, 4, 2...
    • by RsG ( 809189 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @04:13AM (#16894566)
      Sure, but how many procedures do ya think they'd sell when the customers realize that in order to enlarge it, they have to cut it off first and then let it regrow? I wouldn't touch that sort of surgery with a ten foot pole, even if I got a ten foot pole out of it...
      • Your sig seems strangely appropriate...
      • Bigger/more is always better. In the future (AKA lame-o business-speak's "going forward") we'll see porn featuring individuals with 5 24" penises penetrating multiple females that have car airbag-sized funbags.
        • Bigger/more is always better. In the future (AKA lame-o business-speak's "going forward") we'll see porn featuring individuals with 5 24" penises penetrating multiple females that have car airbag-sized funbags.

          Hurray for hentai! []
      • by Repton ( 60818 )

        Off-topic, but this reminds me of the old story of the head of Vecna []...

  • ..."pee pee regrowth services! Chop it off and with the aid of our magical cream it will regrow into a 10 inch monster! Call now at 1800-MYPEEPEE and order yours at our introductory price of $39.95!"
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Dear 1800-MYPEEPEE,

      I would like to complain. I purchased your product and followed the instructions exactly.
      Something is growing back, but it appears to be taking the shape of a chicken wing...

      • by Dunbal ( 464142 )
        Something is growing back, but it appears to be taking the shape of a chicken wing...

              Look on the bright side, this might give a whole new meaning to "oral sex". Now tell me, does your girlfriend prefer hot and spicy, honey mustard, or standard buffalo flavor? :)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 18, 2006 @02:53AM (#16894296)
    " see, you see, it really is just a flesh wound!"
  • yummy! (Score:3, Funny)

    by BortQ ( 468164 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @03:01AM (#16894326) Homepage Journal
    Get the beer kegs ready - endless chicken wings await. Once they learn how to regrow hot sauce western civilization will be complete.
  • Most importantly (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Bob54321 ( 911744 )
    what did it taste like?
    • A guy was driving down a country road when he was overtaken by a speeding chicken. The chicken was moving so fast he never got a good look at it, so he speeded to 90 miles per hour and started to catch up. As he got closer, he could have sworn the chicken had an extra leg, but it really just a blur as it accelerated past 100 and disappeared into the distance. Further up the road, the man noticed that the dust cloud seemed to lead into a farmyard, so he pulled in and went to look for the farmer.
      "Mornin'," sa
  • we've been waiting patiently here in Buffalo, where self-replicating nano hot-sauce has just been created.
  • A chick? A chick embryo at that? Not exactly impressive, but baby steps, eh?
  • Save the Chicken Wing, Save the World.
  • Now we can harvest the delicious wings from the chicken, and leave the chickens in their pens to regrow their wings for future harvests.
  • Seriously? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by PhreeStyle ( 85964 )
    I hope science figures this stuff out soon, I would like to get my foreskin back.
  • Unlike salamanders and lizards, most animals have lost the ability to replace missing limbs.

    So salamanders and lizards are not animals now? What are they then? Bacteria? People? Aliens?

    U think the submitter meant some reptiles and amphibians here.

  • I hate to keep harping on this - the reason I do is because the man's research was so profound and he was sooooo screwed over by the establishment.

    In The Body Electric [], Robert Becker describes how he was able to induce blastema [] formation to re-knit bone fractures.

    • Yep we were screwed as well by the lack of support for his research...

      He reports in chapter seven of the same book of the observation of surgeon Cynthia Illingworth that a child of less than about 11 years old whose fingertip is severed beyond the outermost crease of the outmost joint will invariably regrow perfectly in around 3 months.

      Looks like we humans already have some of this ability but it goes wrong around or just before puberty(my guess as to when).

      It seems inextricably intertwined with cancer

  • Mmmm... Chicken wings...
  • I'm saying that because it's a step forward...not because it's was chicken wing and I'm a black guy posting this. ^_^
  • One heart, please.
  • A cow that produces delicious ranch dressing, we'll be in business. I wonder who's got good buffalo sauce recipes...
  • When one consider how many religious people claim that their god can do anything, he can not regrow limbs. Not a single amputee has had their limbs grown back as a result of prayer, even hough the bible say that god will do anything you ask of him.

    Religion == fantasy, science == reality.
  • Are we sure we should be pursuing this kind of research? Isn't this how Curt Connors became The Lizard?
  • Finally, a soloution to this annoying superbowl chicken wing shortage!
  • Too late for John Wayne Bobbett, but maybe not too late for Lorena's next husband.
  • KFC has been doing this for years. You know that's the same slimy wing you're eating every time, the one with the chewy lump in the center.
  • dreaming of seeing his little John again...
  • Think of the positive ramifications for Hooters, KFC, etc....
  • But could we get chickens with 6 or 8 wings each and barbecue sauce? THEN I'd be impressed!

Executive ability is deciding quickly and getting somebody else to do the work. -- John G. Pollard