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Advance helps explain stem cell behavior

Biochemists at Oregon State University have developed a new method to identify the "DNA-binding transcription factors" that help steer stem cells into forming the wide variety of cells that ultimately make up all the organs and parts of a living vertebrate animal.

The findings were made using mouse embryonic spinal cord as a model, and will be announced this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a professional journal.

The research is an important step towards understanding stem cell behavior, how cellular development is controlled, and how a single cell ?which has the genetic code within it to become any cell in the body ?is told what to become, where to go, and what metabolic function to perform.

Fundamental discoveries such as this, experts say, could ultimately lead to the ability to simulate and possibly control the early developmental process, manipulating stem cells in a way that would help address disease problems, injuries, failing organs or other medical issues.

"If you have an electrical problem in a car, you can repair it a lot easier if you have a wiring diagram," said Michael Gross, an assistant professor of biochemistry and biophysics at OSU. "In a way that's what we're trying to do here, except we're trying to repair or create a certain kind of cell. To do that you need a blueprint of how these processes work, and this will help us create that blueprint."

Even though the processes of cellular development are understood in a broad sense, the detailed biochemistry that underlies and controls these processes is still poorly defined. The overall process appears to be incredibly complex with many pieces and "combinatorial interactions."

Still unknown is exactly what causes certain genes to be expressed. In other words, out of the thousands of genes that could direct the formation of a cell in many different directions, only a subset actually get turned on and become operative in each
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Source:Oregon State University


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