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General Studies 3 >> Enivornment & Ecology

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1. Context

Recently, Ecologists from Mexico’s National Autonomous University relaunched a fundraising campaign to bolster conservation efforts for axolotls, an iconic, endangered fish-like type of salamander.

2. What is an Axolotl?

  • Axolotls are neotenic salamanders, meaning they retain their larval features throughout their adult lives.
  • They possess external gills, a long tail, and a slender, elongated body. Their distinctive appearance, with feather-like gills protruding from behind their heads, has made them a popular subject of scientific study and public fascination.
  • Axolotls, also known as Mexican walking fish, are neotenic salamanders native to Lake Xochimilco and surrounding canals in Mexico City.
  • They are renowned for their unique appearance, remarkable regenerative abilities, and fascinating biological characteristics.

3. Reasons Why Axolotls so Famous

Axolotls have gained worldwide popularity due to their unique characteristics and scientific significance:

  • Their external gills, allowing them to breathe directly from water, set them apart from other amphibians.
  • Their lifelong retention of larval features, unlike other salamanders that undergo metamorphosis, has fascinated scientists and the public.
  • Their remarkable ability to regenerate limbs, organs, and even parts of their brain has made them valuable models for regenerative medicine research.
  • They exhibit remarkable tolerance to a wide range of water temperatures and oxygen levels, allowing them to thrive in their natural habitat.
  • They hold cultural significance in Mexico, often depicted in Aztec mythology and artwork, symbolizing adaptability, transformation, and new beginnings.
  • Their calm demeanour and unique features have endeared them to many pet enthusiasts.
  • Their transparency and genetic similarity to humans make them valuable models for research on regeneration, development, and human diseases.
  • Their critically endangered status has raised awareness and advocacy for their protection and conservation.

4. Axolotl Population Decline

Axolotl populations have experienced a drastic decline due to a combination of factors:

  • Urbanization and pollution have reduced and degraded Lake Xochimilco, their primary habitat.
  • Introduced species, like the American bullfrog, compete for food and prey, and prey on axolotl eggs and larvae.
  •  Increased human activity has led to water pollution, habitat destruction, and the introduction of harmful chemicals.
  • Rising water temperatures and fluctuating water levels disrupt their breeding cycles and make them more susceptible to diseases.
  • Occasional capture for consumption contributes to population decline.
  • Low genetic diversity makes them more vulnerable to environmental changes and diseases.

5. Axolotl and Organ Regeneration

Axolotls possess an astonishing capacity to regenerate limbs, organs, and even parts of their brain. This remarkable ability stems from their unique cellular and molecular mechanisms:

  • Their cells can revert back to a more primitive state with the potential to regenerate into different cell types.
  • They exhibit epimorphic regeneration, forming a blastema, a mass of undifferentiated cells at the injury site, which gradually differentiates and organizes to regenerate the lost structure.
  • Specific genes, such as Hox genes and BMPs, play crucial roles in regulating cell proliferation, differentiation, and patterning during regeneration.

5.1. Axolotls can regenerate a wide range of tissues and organs

  • They can completely regenerate limbs, including bones, muscles, nerves, and blood vessels.
  • They can regenerate internal organs, such as the heart, lungs, and parts of the brain.
  • They can regenerate damaged retinal cells, restoring vision after injury.

5.2. Implications for Regenerative Medicine

Axolotl regeneration holds promise for advancements in regenerative medicine:

  • Understanding axolotl limb regeneration could lead to limb repair therapies in humans, restoring function and improving the quality of life for amputees.
  • Elucidating axolotl organ regeneration could pave the way for organ regeneration in humans, offering new treatment options for conditions such as heart failure, liver disease, and kidney failure.
  • Understanding axolotl tissue repair could lead to new therapies for tissue regeneration in humans, promoting wound healing, treating burns, and addressing other tissue damage.

6. The Way Forward

Research on axolotl regeneration is ongoing, aiming to unravel the complex mechanisms underlying their remarkable abilities. As we gain a deeper understanding, we can translate this knowledge into regenerative therapies for humans, with the potential for transformative advancements in medicine and healthcare.


For Prelims: axolotl, Mixco, American bullfrog, salamander fish, Lake Xochimilco, 
For Mains: 
1. Elaborate on the regenerative abilities of axolotls and their potential applications in advancing regenerative medicine for humans. (250 Words)


Previous Year Questions

1. Match the following: (MPSC Group C 2022) 

Group 'A'                            Group 'B'

(a) Salamander                   (i) Poikilothermic

(b) Duckbilled Platypus     (ii) Sanguivorous

(c) Leech                           (iii) Asymmetrical

(d) Paramecium                (iv) Egg laying mammal

A. (a) -(ii), (b) - (i), (c) - (iii), (d) - (iv)

B. (a) -(i), (b) - (iv), (c) - (ii), (d) - (iii)

C. (a) -(i), (b) - (ii), (c) - (iv), (d) - (iii)

D. (a) -(ii), (b) - (iv), (c) - (i), (d) - (iii)

Answer: B

 Source: The Indian Express

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