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Antler Development


Deer gun season started Friday.  No doubt antlers will be the topic of much conversation, some of it even true, whether it is about the one that got away, or what have you.  Most of those conversations will be on the size of the antlers or whether they were typical or atypical.  But there are other aspects to antlers that we give scant attention.  I was reminded of that recently when I ran across an online Smithsonian article about antler development from 2017.  

Antlers develop from short pedicles or stalks on the frontal bone of the skull.  Growth is rapid.  Very rapid!  If the buck’s health and nutrition are excellent, the antlers may grow up to three-fourths of an inch per day.  Then as autumn approaches, the antlers begin to harden and the outer covering of velvet that has brought blood and nutrients to the developing antler dries up and is shed.  


Antler size and form is a function of genetics, age, nutrition, and more.  The growth, of course, is a highly regulated process influenced by hormones, photoperiod, and other factors. 


It all makes me think of Senator Proxmire.  Some of you may remember Senator William Proxmire and his Golden Fleece Awards (largely a media ploy) given to projects he considered a waste of taxpayer dollars.   I suspect he might have considered giving the award to a government funded study of antler growth.  I can just about hear the clamber now.  


But like many scientific studies that appear to be purely academic, and have little if any practical value, gaining a better understanding of antler growth may provide important information for medical applications.  Already it has been discovered that the cells responsible for antler growth can be moved to another part of the deer’s skull and begin to form an antler.  And because antlers have neurons that have been shown to regenerate ten times faster than human neurons, a better understanding of how antlers grow may have applicability in healing wounds, treating paralysis, and perhaps even limb regeneration.  


So as you hear all that talk over the next couple weeks about those trophy antlers, give some thought to how a better understanding of antler growth may have some amazing medical applicability to improve the human condition. 


-Chuck Lura

Prairie Public Broadcasting provides quality radio, television, and public media services that educate, involve, and inspire the people of the prairie region.
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