Regrowing Limbs

All my cyborg daydreams have just been crushed, ladies and gentlemen. I’m heartbroken, absolutely heartbroken that there is a possible future without men and guns combined into one beautiful being.

*sigh*

Mechanical limbs, or replacement body parts, were in use as far back as the early Egyptian cultures. The common trope in sci-fi is adapting mechanical limbs to shiner, deadlier levels.

Instead of a replacement toe a cyborg in sci-fi might have a laser cannon arm. Awesome!

Less so in real life.

Think of all the hassle! TSA is not going to let you fly with a grenade launcher attached to your body. You’d have to check your arm. That would just be weird, and painful.

In real life prosthetic devices are often ungainly and uncomfortable. Yes, you have an arm there, but it isn’t doing much. Yes, a laser cannon is cool, but it can’t help you play dolls with your kid.

The obvious solution is creating a way for patients to regrow limbs.

Elizabeth Moon plays with this idea in the Vatta’s War series. We know several species of lizard can regrow lost tails. And every human that has lost a limb grew that limb at least once. The trick is to convince the body to repeat the feat.

Now some scientists from Tufts has published an article in the Journal of Neuroscience detailing an experiment wherein the scientists regrew tadpole tales.

This article does a pretty good job of breaking down the science-speak into normal English (for all of you who didn’t graduate with advanced degrees in cellular biology).


What the scientists at Tufts found was that sodium (Na) deficiency at certain stages of growth, and after amputation, could limit growth of a new tail. One hour exposure to a sodium ion solution allowed the tail to begin regrowth.

Sodium, and one hour.

Sixty minutes, and an element that found in 67.8% of the Earth (plus some… that figure is just the salt water portion of our planet). The sixth most common element.

Can you imagine walking into a hospital and telling an amputee patient that?

“Lost your leg in a car accident? Gosh, well, let’s put in a movie for you and soak that knee for a bit.”

Obviously, the science isn’t quite there yet. But it’s getting there. This is a technique that’s moving from fiction, straight into science history.

Think of all of the possibilities!

Think of all the fictional possibilities!

Regrow limbs. Regrow bodies?

Sodium as a limiting factor for extrasolar exploration?

Salt wars in the future?

Where do you see this going?

Galaxy image from NASA stock open source. Frog shadow found here, all rights and thanks to copyright holder.