‘Scientists have identified about two dozen genes that control embryonic stem cell fate. The genes may either prod or restrain stem cells from drifting into a kind of limbo, they suspect. The limbo lies between the embryonic stage and fully differentiated, or specialized, cells, such as bone, muscle or fat.
By knowing the genes and proteins that control a cell’s progress toward the differentiated form, researchers may be able to accelerate the process – a potential boon for the use of stem cells in therapy or the study of some degenerative diseases, the scientists say.
Their finding comes from the first large-scale search for genes crucial to embryonic stem cells. The research was carried out by a team at the University of California, San Francisco and is reported in a paper in the July 11, 2008 issue of “Cell.”
“The genes we identified are necessary for embryonic stem cells to maintain a memory of who they are,” says Barbara Panning, PhD, associate professor of biochemistry and biophysics at UCSF, and senior author on the paper. “Without them the cell doesn’t know whether it should remain a stem cell or differentiate into a specialized cell.”‘