BORLAND, SJ; MALACINSKI, GM; Indiana University; Indiana University: Axolotls as a Model System in Undergraduate Developmental Biology Courses
The axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum) has served as an important non-mammalian model system for research in developmental biology and neurobiology for more than a century. The axolotl, a neotenic salamander, has also become an increasingly important system for teaching undergraduate developmental biology courses. There are a number of special characteristics that make it particularly useful in these courses. Axolotls have large embryos that tolerate microsurgery, as well as microinjection of various vital dyes and/or DNA/mRNAs. This makes accessible studies on cell lineage, cell migration, and cell fate during embryonic development. Axolotls have the ability, unique among the vertebrates, to perfectly regenerate numerous body parts, including the brain, spinal cord, and fore- and hindlimbs throughout life. Particularly, limb regeneration occurs rapidly enough that limb regeneration studies/manipulation can be carried out over 2-3 months during the time span of a typical college course. Also, their large cells are well-suited for single-cell electrophysiology, making them a useful model organism in neurobiological studies. Axolotl materials are available at all stages, all year round from the NSF-funded Indiana University Axolotl Colony. The Colony staff can provide technical support and work with instructors on the timing and delivery of all materials. There are well-established protocols for basic development manipulations and experiments for use in the undergraduate classroom. Results from use of such materials increases knowledge acquisition and student-oriented development of both intellectual (critical thinking) and technical skills.