Gene Activation: Nature’s Time Machine
Recently, I read an article in Scientific American on limb regeneration, and the first things I thought of were science fiction TV shows/books. In those stories, medicine is capable of absolutely incredible feats including regeneration of lost or severely injured body parts. I thought about this because the article talks about a fascinating gene called Lin28a. When Lin28a turns on, a protein in the body starts a cascade of chemical reactions that can generate energy (boost the metabolism) and effectively reprogram cells back to an embryonic-like state. The picture above is an image of the protein structure of Lin28a.
The researchers featured in the article worked with genetically engineered mice where their gene remained on rather than shutting down after birth. They found amazing “supergrowth abilities” and incredible wound healing abilities. Unfortunately, these abilities seem limited to the size of the tissue/organ. However, this gene does present scientists with a very interesting avenue for future study.
This article prompted me to do a little bit more digging into this concept. So, I took my google scholar skills and looked for a scientific journal article on the topic. I found an article titled “Lin28 Enhances Tissue Repair by Reprogramming Cellular Metabolism.” Before even downloading the full text PDF, the information in the abstract and highlights was extremely eye-catching! In this study, researchers found that this gene reactivation was able to promote hair growth and accelerated regrowth of cartilage, bone, and mesenchyme after ear and digit injury.
The above image describes how tissue repair decreases with age much like the gene activation of Lin28. When Lin28a is activated, it can return cells to a similar metabolic state as that of much younger cells and therefore assist with the ability to heal faster.
This concept of gene expression leading to increased and faster wound healing is very exciting, and I hope I can somehow take this information and incorporate it into my research one day. Articles like these reinforce my belief that science is amazing!