UCL amphibian study scoops ‘Science’ prize

28 January 2009

A UCL study that uncovered a new molecular cue that promotes limb regeneration in newts has won a prestigious international science prize.

North American Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens) - champion of regeneration

The annual Newcomb Cleveland Prize of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) recognises an outstanding paper published in the Research Article or Reports sections of the journal ‘Science’. The experimental work for the paper was entirely performed in the UCL Research Department of Structural and Molecular Biology, and it is is the first time in four years that biologists have won the prize.

The winning team comprised UCL Research Department of Structural and Molecular Biology researchers Dr Anoop Kumar, Dr James Godwin, Phillip Gates and Professor Jeremy Brockes, and a former graduate student of the department, Acely  Garza-Garcia. They discovered that the protein nAG helps to stimulate the proliferation of blastema: a collection of cells at the tip of the stump formed when an amphibian’s limb is severed – and from which the new limb grows.

Even when the nerve was severed beneath the stump tip, the authors were able to coax the formation of a blastema by artificially inducing cells to express the protein. The blastema was capable of generating a new limb with normal features, although the limb wasn’t fully functional.

The findings were published in ‘Science’ in an article entitled ‘Molecular Basis for the Nerve Dependence of Limb Regeneration in an Adult Vertebrate’.

The UCL team will share £25,000 in prize money, to be awarded along with a medal each at the AAAS Annual Meeting in Chicago, which begins on 11 February.

Professor Brockes said: “This is a prize for a paper and the five authors are very grateful to the AAAS for honoring it in this way. We also thank the persons unknown who nominated the paper for this award. Readers may be interested to inspect the paper which carries an authors summary to help make it accessible to those outside the field.”

The prize was established in 1923 as the AAAS Thousand Dollar Prize, funded by Newcomb Cleveland of New York City. Nominations for next year’s awards close on 30 June.

To find out more, follow the links at the top of this article.

Image: North American newt (notophthalmus viridescens) - champion of regeneration