Download PDF Copy Reviewed by Emily Henderson, B.Sc. Apr 17 2020
The point when human embryonic stem cells irreversibly commit to becoming specialised has been identified by researchers at the Francis Crick Institute.
Our biological history can be traced back to a small group of cells called embryonic stem cells, which through cell division, give rise to cells that specialise to perform a specific role in the body - a process known as differentiation.
Understanding when and how embryonic stem cells specialise provides insights into healthy differentiation and how cells 'remember' what type of cell they are. This process can go wrong in cancer, when cells 'forget' their identity and change into the wrong type.
As part of the research, published in Cell Stem Cell , Crick scientists found that embryonic stem cells differentiate unexpectedly early, irreversibly committing to become each of the more than 200 cell types in the body.
They showed this was as a result of a newly identified small group of genes becoming activated, which they named 'early-commitment genes'.
Working with stem cells and mathematical models, we've identified a new class of genes which are responsible for regulating one of the earliest stages of human development.
Once these genes are activated, it's a question of minutes before the cells fully commit to differentiation. The speed of this is incredibly surprising, especially if you consider how the first signs of differentiation, that's the embryo developing the first embryonic germ layers, take about three days. These layers ultimately give rise to all the tissues in the growing foetus weeks later." Silvia Santos, author and group leader in the Quantitative Cell Biology Laboratory at the Crick Related Stories
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