Cell fate or predetermination?


Scientists at the Genome Institute of Singapore have recently generated significant single cell expression data crucial for a molecular understanding of mammalian development. The “single cell expression data” refers to how cells evolve from fertilization to implantation, the fascinating period of life development called the preimplantation period. Very basically put, this is the time that cells decide what kind of cells they are going to become. It’s an area scientists hotly debate - how much of cell development is predetermined? How much is random?

The preimplatation period involves the first cellular differentiation events - the first divisions where pluripotent cells decide to become a particular type of cells. Pluripotent cells from where embryonic stem (ES) cells are derived. Pluripotency refers to a stem cell that has the potential to differentiate into any of the three layers: endoderm (interior stomach lining, gastrointestinal tract, the lungs), mesoderm (muscle, bone, blood, urogenital), or ectoderm (epidermal tissues and nervous system). Pluripotent stem cells can become any fetal or adult cell type.

“This remarkable work by Guoji Guo, Mikael Huss, Paul Robson and colleagues uses new microgenomic technologies to map, over time, how a single cell decides to permanently become different parts of an embryo. Within one division, cells commit to specific developmental lineages by expressing defined sets of genes. This research now opens the possibility of assessing the genetic triggers for fate determination of individual cells in developmental time. On another level, this work highlights the importance of new microtechnologies in advancing the understanding of early embryonic events,” said Executive Director at the GIS, Professor Edison Liu. This research published in Developmental Cell magazine, April 0, 2010, has a direct impact on regenerative medicine and assisted reproduction.

“This is a real technological tour de force. The authors investigated changes in the expression of multiple genes on a single cell level during preimplantation mouse development. They clearly demonstrated gradual and stochastic lineage allocation and absence of predetermination. These result conclusively resolved one of the hotly debated issues in mammalian development and provided important new insight into the mechanism which regulated early development in mammals,” said Professor Davor Solter, Senior Principal Investigator of the Institute of Medical Biology.

Now scientists will be able to create better hypotheses for testing the potential of cells for regeneration, ie stem cells which can be coaxed into becoming heart muscle tissue, and also for reproductive applications.

Source: Medical News Today, A*STAR


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