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. The study, published in the advance online edition of Genes and Development on Nov. 17, demonstrates that vertebrate regeneration is under the control of the powerful Wnt signaling system: Activating it overcomes the mysterious barrier to regeneration in animals like chicks that can't normally replace missing limbs while inactivating it in animals known to be able to regenerate their limbs (frogs, zebrafish, and salamanders) shuts down their ability to replace missing legs and tails.
The procedure was tricky, however. Belmonte 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."
Perhaps the recently found RNA activation process for triggering genes could be used to help turn on the Wnt genes and the RNA interference can be used to turn it off.