Wow! A researcher from Harvard Medical School accidentally discovered what might be a gene that triggers regeneration of lost tissue! While conducting cancer research, George Daley clipped holes in the ears of mice genetically engineered with the Lin28a gene so he could quickly tell them apart, however the holes kept closing. Not exactly sure why he did this but he also clipped off their toes and found that they too grew back eventually. The fur he shaved from their backs also returned quicker than usual. The exact process by which the mice were healing was a bit beyond my ability to comprehend, but in a nutshell, the modified gene triggered similar growth patterns experienced during the development from embryo to mouse.
I can already imagine the patent attorneys salivating at this prospect. If they design a drug or form of treatment that can trigger this type of regeneration, so many problems could be solved. Of course people think about lost limbs and perhaps even organ replacement, but imagine the impact this discovery could have on world hunger? Of course it would cause a tremendous amount of controversy, designing livestock that regenerates lost tissue. Animal rights activists would probably have a field day with the thought of animals mutilated over and over again until their cells can no longer regenerate lost tissue. But think of the possibilities. Depending on the length of the regrowth process, one farm might be able to cut costs significantly by not needing to replenish livestock as often.
The article does mention that the gene did not trigger regeneration in all tissues, and it appeared that at a certain age limit it decreased in efficacy, but this discovery shows at the very least the potential of genetic engineering.
I wonder if the stem cell research advocates would find ways to object to this type of genetic research. From what I understand, many people that oppose stem cell research do so because they fear stem cells come exclusively from embryonic cells. However with this type of genetic modification, you’re essentially regrowing tissue as if it were the first time. I think the debates on this subject would be fascinating to hear and I’d love to hear the religious side of the arguments as well. If we eventually modify ourselves to be able to regenerate lost limbs and organs, a trait not inherently human, would that conflict with religious beliefs of a higher power?
On the flip side, the biggest glaring issue for me would be overpopulation. The more we invest on lifespan prolonging tech, the more crowded the planet gets. More people = more pollution. Although this discovery is fantastic and could help a large number of people, I wonder if the end results would ever see the light of day. I can imagine world leaders would probably be concerned on the negative effects of a growing population with significantly increased life spans. If retirement age remained where it is, medical discoveries that lengthen our lifespans would be a significant amount of stress on economic systems. Bridge clubs and Bingo halls would make a killing though.