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Why have higher-order animals lost the ability to regenerate body parts during evolution? Wouldn't it be better for survival? What is the evolutionary theory behind it?

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the liver regenerates.. The regenerative ability of which animal are you talking about? – The Last Word Jul 17 '14 at 6:08
My question is about Limbs and other body parts. Like lizards can regenerate a whole limb but crocodile can't(just an example). – Devashish Das Jul 17 '14 at 6:11
Rephrase your question to "lost the ability to regenerate body parts during the transition from reptiles to mammals." – The Last Word Jul 17 '14 at 6:21
Sounds Better!! – Devashish Das Jul 17 '14 at 6:28
I changed Reptiles to Amphibians in the title, because there is no reptile to mammal transition. – kmm Jul 21 '14 at 1:56
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Regeneration of limbs in amphibians is an adaptation where new limbs are generated by dedifferentiated cells. This process is tightly linked to the embryonic program which, in most animal cells, is a difficult program to access once terminal differentiation has occurred (but it's possible, e.g. induced pluripotent stem cells).

Of note, amphibians have a unique life cycle that includes metamorphosis. It is thought that organisms with more diverse stages in their development may have increased potential for regeneration. Mammals, after birth, do pass through multiple stages of development, but these stages are largely continuous.

So the quick answer is: mammalian limbs are made up of terminally differentiated cells (and specialized stem cells) with high barriers of reprogramming. They're difficult to reprogram because there hasn't been strong selective pressure to do so. Limb regeneration might seem like a great adaptation, but it doesn't seem to be that important for the success of mammals. Additionally, selection for "maintaining a full set of functional limbs" could evolve many different ways. For example, primates may have evolved behaviors or reinforced anatomy that reduces their risk of injuring a limb. Also, larger animals are probably less likely to have limbs removed just given their size. And if they do, it may have little effect on their reproductive fitness. A legless amphibian probably finds few, if any, mates.

Yun Gates, and Brock. Regulation of p53 is critical for vertebrate limb regeneration, PNAS 2013

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Wow, great answer. Can you add some references? – Devashish Das Jul 21 '14 at 4:44
Thanks! I've added a reference. The introduction and citations in the linked paper include the relevant information. – yummyclaypot Jul 21 '14 at 5:30

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