​Scientists Bring Us One Step Closer To Wolverine’s Healing Powers

Comics and superhero films are compelling largely because you know the details are pretty far-fetched. Some dude getting bitten by a spider and turning into some web-slinging, wall-clambering hero? Sounds completely legit.

But now scientists at Harvard University have now uncovered the DNA switch that controls genes for whole-body regeneration - which you may know is a fairly crucial element of the superhero powers belonging to a certain Wolverine.

While the actual regeneration process might be a little while off yet, researchers have at least begun to understand how such a process is possible, having identified the genetic switches (or, as Screenrant puts it, mutations) that could make it a reality for humans.


Many animals can repair parts of their body. Think about geckos, which are able to shed their tails to escape predators before simply growing another in a matter of months. Salamanders can do the same with their back legs, while planarian worms, jellyfish and sea anemonesare able to regenerate their entire bodies after being cut in half.

The findings, which were published in Science magazine, revealed that in worms there is also a section of non-coding DNA - or 'junk' DNA - that can help activate the 'master control gene' called early growth response (EGR).

This acts like something of a power switch, which turns the possibility of regeneration on or off.

"We were able to decrease the activity of this gene and we found that if you don't have EGR, nothing happens," said Dr Mansi Srivastava, Assistant Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University.

"The animals just can't regenerate. All those downstream genes won't turn on, so the other switches don't work, and the whole house goes dark, basically."

Geckos can shed and rebuild tails to escape predators. Credit: PA
Geckos can shed and rebuild tails to escape predators. Credit: PA

Humans also carry EGR, producing it when cells are stressed and need to repair themselves. However, currently it doesn't seem to trigger any sort of large-scale regeneration like you'll have seen in the adventures of Wolverine.

Srivastava added: "The question is: If humans can turn on EGR, and not only turn it on, but do it when our cells are injured, why can't we regenerate?

"It's a very natural question to look at the natural world and think, if a gecko can do this why can't I?

"The answer may be that if EGR is the power switch, we think the wiring is different. What EGR is talking to in human cells may be different than what it is talking to in the three-banded panther worm."

Right, what about Superman's ability to fly?

Featured Image Credit: 20th Century Fox

Jess Hardiman

Jess Hardiman is a journalist who graduated from Manchester University with a BA in Film Studies, English Language and Literature, and has previously worked for Time Out and The Skinny among others.

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