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Scientists discover key to stem cell differentiation

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Embryonic stem cells go through a process called self-renewal in which they undergo multiple cycles of division while not differentiating into any other type of cells. This process is dependent on three protein networks, but how these networks are integrated posed a mystery.

Then a team of researchers at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Baltimore, Md., used a combination of genetic, protein-oriented and physiological approaches involving mouse embryonic stem cells to uncover a mechanism — a protein called Utf1 — that integrates the networks and provides a critical missing link to understanding this process. Their findings are published in the current issue of Cell.

Carnegie’s Yixian Zheng led the research team, which also included scientists from the National Institutes of Health and Scripps Research Institute.

“We are slowly but surely growing to understand the physiology of embryonic stem cells,” she said. “It is crucial that we continue to carrying out basic research on how these cells function.”

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Carnegie Institution for Science