Truth be told, there is a countless list of amazing feats that occur in nature we, as a species, have yet to truly comprehend. For centuries humans have long been trying to replicate some of the more amazing accomplishments Mother Nature rightfully boasts over us.

One of the more amazing achievements that occur in nature has to do with the nimble gecko and the elegant sea star, which can partially regenerate their tails and  limbs respectively. Of course, salamanders go one better and are able to regenerate whole limbs. Even humans, to some degree, are able to regenerate damaged livers (partially) or even the tips of our fingers. Now, according to Science Daily, a new study conducted by the Tulane University shows  it might actually be possible to promote limb regrowth to levels akin to salamanders by utilizing the very air we breathe.

The Department of Defense-funded study shows that when severed bone is exposed to high levels of oxygen the bone will undergo regrowth. Leading the study is Tulane University’s Mimi Sammarco who found that any bone growth in humans must be triggered in order to activate the type of genes that can stimulate the kind of regenerative growth seen in salamanders.

“What it boils down to is genes (that spur regeneration) don’t just turn themselves on. They turn on because something signals them. So I thought, maybe it’s oxygen that’s turning them on,” Sammarco said in a release for the study. “Oxygen is often the primary signal that turns on various genes.”

To test this, Sammarco and the team at Tulane have been experimenting with samples of bone and exposing them to high levels of oxygen.”What we found is that when you expose regenerating bone to 20 percent oxygen, it’ll respond very favorably but only at a certain time. If you try it too early, like right after amputation, it doesn’t do a whole lot.”

Sammarco and the team’s main focus for the regenerative research centers on the battlefield and the countless soldiers that lose their limbs in combat as well as those suffering from diabetes  and other accidents that have led to limb loss. For now, it at least looks like high levels of oxygen shows promise in “turning on” the requisite genes to promote partial regrowth, but since timing proves vital — and getting soldiers to safety during the heat of battle brings forth its own complications —  challengers still impede the level of success and regeneration Sammarco is aiming for. 

And the problem will only continue to grow worse:  ”One out of every 200 Americans is an amputee,” Sammarco explains. “This number is expected to double in the next 40 years and is of particular concern given that amputation injuries have increased considerably due to combat casualties and the increasing amputation issues associated with the rise in diabetes and other related diseases.”

Unfortunately, it looks like it will be a long wait until the day we see entire limbs regenerated. At best we can expect to see doctors regrow limbs partially, and most likely only enough to see about an inch or two of growth, but according to Sammarco  – even now — that can make all the difference until medical technology allows for maximum growth. 

[Image credit: Dim Dimich/Shutterstock]