The history of the oldest self-sustaining laboratory animal: 150 years of axolotl research

J Exp Zool B Mol Dev Evol. 2015 Jul;324(5):393-404. doi: 10.1002/jez.b.22617. Epub 2015 Apr 29.


Today the Mexican axolotl is critically endangered in its natural habitat in lakes around Mexico City, but thrives in research laboratories around the world, where it is used for research on development, regeneration, and evolution. Here, we concentrate on the early history of the axolotl as a laboratory animal to celebrate that the first living axolotls arrived in Paris in 1864, 150 years ago. Maybe surprisingly, at first the axolotl was distributed across Europe without being tied to specific research questions, and amateurs engaged in acclimatization and aquarium movements played an important role for the rapid proliferation of the axolotl across the continent. But the aquarium also became an important part of the newly established laboratory, where more and more biological and medical research now took place. Early scientific interest focused on the anatomical peculiarities of the axolotl, its rare metamorphosis, and whether it was a larva or an adult. Later, axolotl data was used to argue both for (by August Weismann and others) and against (by e.g., Albert von Kölliker) Darwinism, and the axolotl even had a brief history as a laboratory animal used in a failed attempt to prove Lysenkoism in Jena, Germany. Nowadays, technical developments such as transgenic lines, and the very strong interest in stem cell and regeneration research has again catapulted the axolotl into becoming an important laboratory animal.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Ambystoma mexicanum* / anatomy & histology
  • Ambystoma mexicanum* / genetics
  • Ambystoma mexicanum* / physiology
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Developmental Biology / history*
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Laboratory Animal Science / history*
  • Metamorphosis, Biological
  • Regeneration