F Rosa Rubicondior: Does God Favour Axolotls?

Tuesday 4 October 2016

Does God Favour Axolotls?

Early development reveals axolotl mysteries -- ScienceDaily

You can understand a creator being quite fond of axolotls. There is something fascinating about them, especially the way they look and behave a lot like some sort of fish with legs and even breathe underwater using gills.

Basically, the Mexican axolotl, Ambystoma mexicanum, is a big salamander which spends most of its life as a tadpole. They even breed in their juvenile form and only become land-based adults when their water dries up. They also have a massive genome by mammalian standards, all packed into just fourteen chromosomes. Their genome is far larger than any other known amphibians but this appears to be due almost entirely to repetitive gene duplication.

But isn't the putative creator so beloved of creationists supposed to favour humans, its very special creation and the reason it created everything else? Off hand, though, it's hard to think of what use axolotls are to humans, apart from giving some of us the endless pleasure of studying them.

Now, one of the things that is hard to understand, if you believe in this magic creator, is why its powers appear to be limited. For example, no matter how earnestly it prayed to, it appears to be utterly incapable of regenerating a human limb; not even just a finger. And yet it created axolotls with not only the ability to regenerate limbs but entire organs such as the heart, spine, eyes and tail.

Quite how the axolotl manages to do this has been something of a mystery and research has tended to concentrate on the cluster of cells known as a blastema which forms at the base of an amputated limb. Now, scientists with the regenerative biology team of the Morgridge Institute for Research think they have found this ability to regenerate to be something far more fundamental. It's as though the axolotl re-runs it's own embryological development at a local level. Their findings were published in Developmental Biology. Unfortunately, only the abstract is available online and the copyright holders want me to pay £23.31 for the privilege of saving you the bother of going there to read it!

...researchers looked at 17 different development stages of axolotl embryos and found a highly unusual series of bursts in changes in gene expression, followed by stable periods, that is unique in developmental biology.

These “waves and troughs” of genetic change appear three times: When the genome is first activated, during formation of the early gut and during formation of the nervous system. This pattern gives scientists three hot targets for comparison to the existing bank of information on mature axolotl limb regeneration.

Channeling a primal pathway

“We have reason to believe that what’s taking place in the adult limb regeneration process looks a lot like early axolotl development,” says Jeffrey Nelson, Morgridge postdoctoral researcher and lead author with computational biologist Peng Jiang. In a sense, the adult animal may be reactivating some primal pathway in order to trigger limb formation.

So, pretending for a moment that creationists' intelligent designer (i.e the Christian god of the Bible) actually exists and created all living things, the question is, why he appear to have favoured axolotls and given them the means to regenerate missing body parts, and yet didn't endow humans with the same abilities. Maybe a creationist can explain this to me. They could also explain why it appears to have designed the axolotl with lots of copies of the same genes.

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