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The amazing and anomalous axolotls as scientific models

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Ambystoma mexicanum (axolotl) embryos and juveniles have been used as model organisms for developmental and regenerative research for many years. This neotenic aquatic species maintains the unique capability to regenerate most, if not all, of its tissues well into adulthood. With large externally developing embryos, axolotls were one of the original model species for developmental biology. However, increased access to, and use of, organisms with sequenced and annotated genomes, such as Xenopus laevis and tropicalis and Danio rerio, reduced the prevalence of axolotls as models in embryogenesis studies. Recent sequencing of the large axolotl genome opens up new possibilities for defining the recipes that drive the formation and regeneration of tissues like the limbs and spinal cord. However, to decode the large A. mexicanum genome will take a herculean effort, community resources, and the development of novel techniques. Here, we provide an updated axolotl-staging chart ranging from one-cell stage to immature adult, paired with a perspective on both historical and current axolotl research that spans from their use in early studies of development to the recent cutting-edge research, employment of transgenesis, high-resolution imaging, and study of mechanisms deployed in regeneration.

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