Soft Robotics – Bio-Inspiration: The Axolotl

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Axolotl are adorable amphibians who never transition to land because they are neotenic, or reach adulthood without metamorphosis. They are genetically very close to salamanders. They are indigenous to two lakes near Mexico City, Lake Xochimilco and Lake Chalco, with only the former remaining.

The Axolotls were revered as sacred beings by the Aztec.  The Aztec made the largest city in Pre-Columbian Americas named Tenochtitlan (current day Mexico City) on an island named Lake Texcoco. Like many plant and animal species, colonialism has directly effected their decline. In 1521, the Spanish drained lakes and built cities in its place. Currently there has been non-native fish added to Lake Xochimilco who are eating the Axolotl young.

The Axolotl have amazing regenerative qualities, and are able to regrow without any scarring, up to a 3rd of the heart, front brain, spine, limbs and testes. One can transplant leg and place it next to an arm and the body will adapt it. When they experience a severing, the cells in that area lose their individual characeteristics and act as stem cells and are able to regenerate accordingly, seemingly indefinitely.  They are 1000 more times resistant to cancer than any other animal and the only terrestrial animal that can regenerate. They are widely tested in labs due to this unique and powerful anatomy.

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How its features could be used in technology: regeneration for burn victims, amputees and cancer patients. Scientists are trying to figure out how exactly their regeneration works and some believe one day it will be able to be used for human regeneration.

When speaking of stem cells or any technology in general, there is always a looming question of ethics and which directions it can go in. We are beings of light and light makes shadow,  anything we create will embody this duality and the infinite choices of what to do within that framework.  A technology like this could be used for healing or a more “unnatural” or disturbing direction.

In the 60’s, a scientist amputated n Axolotl head and transplanted it on the back of another Axolotl. Both heads continued to grow for 65 weeks until they died. In a far out, but not implausible sense, if the Axolotl’s regenerative abilities were understood to the extend that they could be put to use – one could create creatures with multiple heads or arms, or possibly combined species.

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