Photo/IllutrationJapanese fire belly newt (cynops pyrrhogaste) (Provided by Chikafumi Chiba)

A type of Japanese newt can regrow its tail, eyes, brain and even parts of its heart throughout its lifetime thanks to a specific type of red blood cell, a Japanese research team has found.

“In addition to oxygen, newt red blood cells appear to be carrying various substances that relate to regeneration like a pharmaceutical capsule,” said Chikafumi Chiba, professor of regenerative physiology at the University of Tsukuba. “I hope to apply the findings to future research of regenerative medicine.”

The Japanese fire belly newt (cynops pyrrhogaste) is endemic to the nation, and widely inhabits the islands of Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. Newt species are known to retain high regeneration ability even when fully grown, unlike most other animals.

Based on a hypothesis that the ability stems from a gene that the species acquired during its evolution, Chiba and his colleagues studied the regenerative process of its limbs.

The researchers discovered Newtic1, a previously unknown gene possessed by only newts and other urodele amphibians, and which is expressed in immature red blood cells, is responsible for the species’ outstanding regeneration ability.

When a limb of the newt is amputated, numerous immature red blood cells form a mass of cells around the area and secrete multiple chemicals, including an enzyme that is essential for regeneration of tissue, and a substance that can trigger dedifferentiation of cells that are already differentiated into muscles or other tissues.

The findings were published in Scientific Reports, a British academic journal, in May.