Research

'Behind the Blue': Randal Voss, Jeramiah Smith Discuss Axolotl Salamanders and the Keys to Human Regeneration

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (July 17, 2019) Regeneration is one of the most enticing areas of biological research. How are some animals able to regrow body parts? Is it possible that humans could do the same? If scientists could unlock the secrets that confer those animals with this remarkable ability, the knowledge could have profound significance in clinical practice down the road. 

Scientists at the University of Kentucky have taken this fantasy one step closer to reality, recently announcing that they have assembled the genome of the axolotl, a salamander whose only native habitat is a lake near Mexico City.

On this week’s episode of “Behind the Blue,” UKPR’s Amy Timoney talks with Randal Voss, a professor in the UK Spinal Cord and Brain Injury Research Center, and Jeramiah Smith, an associate professor in the UK Department of Biology. Organisms with larger genomes than humans have been largely impossible to map, due to the remarkable computational burden posed, but Voss and Smith adapted a classical genetic approach called linkage mapping to put the axolotl genome together in the correct order quickly and efficiently – the first genome of this size to be assembled to date.

As proof of concept, Voss and Smith used the assembled data to rapidly identify a gene that causes a heart defect in an axolotl, thus providing a new model of human disease.

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The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion two years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. The Chronicle of Higher Education judged us a “Great College to Work for,”  and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for three straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.