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Mexican salamander helps uncover mysteries of stem cells and evolution
Date:7/11/2010

ges in the evolution of their body shape and physiology. In axolotls and humans it has been necessary to keep a far more rigid arrangement of the soma and therefore they have not diverged into multiple closely related species. And the reason for this is that there are two quite different ways of producing germ cells."

The embryos of most lab animals, including frogs but not mice, contain material called germ plasm, and germ plasm has the role of instructing cells to become the primordial germ cells which go on to become sperm and egg. But axolotls are different; Dr Johnson's team found that their embryos actually don't contain germ plasm and instead they use a system very similar to mice and humans. Axolotls produce their primordial germs cells from pluripotent cells similar to embryonic stem cells by a process called induction.

Dr Johnson said "Within our new theory of evolution pluripotency came first and so germ plasm would have to have evolved independently several times in species within the branches of the tree, for example in frogs and many fish. This is a process called convergent evolution where a common advantage leads to several species developing features that make them appear more similar, rather than less.

"What is the advantage of germ plasm such that it would have evolved several times? We had to resolve the argument that germ plasm wasn't necessary because pluripotency did the job just fine. We knew that with germ plasm pluripotency is not necessary, because the embryos contain primordial germ cells anyway. This explains why the Nanog gene became dispensable, and was lost from the DNA but it doesn't explain what is the advantage to having germ plasm."

Dr. Johnson and his colleagues suggest that the evolution of germ plasm liberates the soma of an organism to evolve more rapidly, simply because the embryo doesn't need to induce germ cells they are already there because of germ plasm. As a result of this, the
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Contact: Nancy Mendoza
ukpo@uknscn.org
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
Source:Eurekalert

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