Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
Scientific Communities
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article

Unlocking the Destiny of a Cell

Published: Thursday, November 01, 2012
Last Updated: Thursday, November 01, 2012
Bookmark and Share
Scientists have discovered that breaking a biological signaling system in an embryo allows them to change the destiny of a cell. The findings could lead to new ways of making replacement organs.

The discovery was made in the laboratory of Joel H. Rothman, a professor in the Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology at UC Santa Barbara. The studies were reported in the interdisciplinary journal Genes and Development, and were carried out by Ph.D student Nareg Djabrayan, in collaboration with Rothman and two other members of the laboratory, Ph.D student Erica Sommermann and postdoctoral fellow Nathaniel Dudley.

"At some point along the way toward becoming part of a complete individual, cells become destined to choose a particular identity and long-term profession," Rothman noted. "Once a cell chooses who it will be, it locks onto that identity for the remainder of its life."

A cell that is destined to become a heart cell functions exclusively in the heart until it dies, and never chooses later to change jobs by becoming, for example, a brain cell. "If Oz's wizard possessed the powers he claimed, and had a spare brain lying around, he could switch it to a heart as a gift for the Tin Man. And he could reverse the trick for the Scarecrow," Rothman said.

Similarly, the researchers have found a way to unlock cells' destinies and lead them to take on a new profession.

The scientists found that a widely used cell signaling system, known as "Notch" signaling, causes cells to commit to a particular occupation, such as a skin or brain cell. When they blocked the signal by genetic manipulation, the researchers discovered that they could force a cell to change its destiny, such that they instead became cells of the intestine.

"We found that we could break the signal in such a way that cells would follow their usual destinies, but were somehow less committed to doing so: We could convince them to change professions long after they would normally refuse to do so," Rothman said.

The scientists made the discovery by harnessing the genetics of a tiny nematode worm known as C. elegans, a model animal that has become famed in fundamental studies in biomedicine, and has been the subject of six Nobel prizes.

The researchers discovered that shutting off the Notch signal in early embryos made it possible for them to change the destiny of cells much later on, at a stage when they normally could not. "The later cells seemed to remember what had happened to their great-grandparent cells," Rothman said. "Imagine if the experience of your great-grandparents predestined you to become a lawyer, dentist, or coal miner, and you could not choose to change your professional destiny. That is what is happening to cells whose cellular ancestors received the Notch signal."

The research was supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine.

The discovery could someday help scientists develop new ways to produce tissues and organs in the laboratory that could be used to replace a patient's injured, diseased, or aged organs. By unlocking a cell's normal destiny, it may be possible to change it into an altogether different type of cell that could be used to grow a new organ for a patient — or perhaps, a Tin Man.

Further Information
Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 2,700+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More Than 3,800+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters

Sign In

Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Related Content

New Autism Genes Are Revealed in Largest-Ever Study
Work draws more detailed picture of genetic risk, sheds light on sex differences in diagnosis.
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Influenza A Viruses More Likely To Emerge In East Asia Than North America
Novel strains of influenza A are more likely to emerge in East Asia than in North America, according to a global analysis by the One Health Institute at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and EcoHealth Alliance.
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Opening the Door to Safer, More Precise Cancer Therapies
New method regulates when, and how strongly, cancer-killing therapeutic T cells are activated.
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Crunching Numbers to Combat Cancer
UCSF receives $5 million to integrate data from cancer research models.
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Virus In Cattle Linked To Human Breast Cancer
A new study by UC Berkeley researchers establishes for the first time a link between infection with the bovine leukemia virus and human breast cancer.
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Ultrafast DNA Diagnostics
New technology developed by UC Berkeley bioengineers promises to make a workhorse lab tool cheaper, more portable and many times faster by accelerating the heating and cooling of genetic samples with the switch of a light.
Monday, August 03, 2015
Scientists Create CRISPR/Cas9 Knock-In Mutations in Human T Cells
In a project spearheaded by investigators at UC San Francisco, scientists have devised a new strategy to precisely modify human T cells using the genome-editing system known as CRISPR/Cas9.
Tuesday, July 28, 2015
Simple Technology Makes CRISPR Gene Editing Cheaper
University of California, Berkeley, researchers have discovered a much cheaper and easier way to target a hot new gene editing tool, CRISPR-Cas9, to cut or label DNA.
Friday, July 24, 2015
Printed "Smart Cap" Detects Spoiled Food
It might not be long before consumers can just hit “print” to create an electronic circuit or wireless sensor in the comfort of their homes.
Tuesday, July 21, 2015
Growing Spinal Disc Tissue
Scientists develop new method for growing spinal disc tissue in the lab for combating chronic back pain.
Friday, July 03, 2015
Delivering Drugs to the Right Place
Thomas Weimbs has developed a targeted drug delivery method that could potentially slow the progression of polycystic kidney disease.
Monday, June 29, 2015
The Deep Carbon Cycle
Over billions of years, the total carbon content of the outer part of the Earth—in its upper mantle, crust, oceans and atmospheres—has gradually increased, scientists report.
Tuesday, June 23, 2015
Designing New Pain Relief Drugs
Researchers have identified the molecular interactions that allow capsaicin to activate the body’s primary receptor for sensing heat and pain, paving the way for the design of more selective and effective drugs to relieve pain.
Thursday, June 11, 2015
Engineers Crack DNA Code of Autoimmune Disorders
Researchers have identified an unexpectedly general set of rules that determine which molecules can cause the immune system to become vulnerable to the autoimmune disorders lupus and psoriasis.
Wednesday, June 10, 2015
Genetic Markers for Detecting and Treating Ovarian Cancer
Custom bioinformatics algorithm identifies human mRNAs that distinguish ovarian cancer cells from normal cells and provide new therapeutic targets
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Scientific News
Breaking Through the Barriers to Lab Innovation
Here we examine the drivers behind the move for greater innovation, the challenges and current trends in laboratory informatics, and the tools that can be used to break these barriers.
Education and Expense: The Barriers to Mass Spectrometry in Clinical Laboratories?
Here we examine the perceived barriers to mass spec in clinical laboratories and explore the possible drivers behind the recent shift in uptake of the technology in clinical settings.
Fruit Fly Pheromone Flags Great Real Estate for Starting a Family
Finding could aid efforts to control mosquito-borne diseases like malaria by manipulating odorants
Gene Editing Could Enable Pig-To-Human Organ Transplant
The largest number of simultaneous gene edits ever accomplished in the genome could help bridge the gap between organ transplant scarcity and the countless patients who need them.
Antioxidants Cause Malignant Melanoma to Metastasize Faster
Fresh research at Sahlgrenska Academy has found that antioxidants can double the rate of melanoma metastasis in mice.
New Therapy Reduces Symptoms of Inherited Enzyme Deficiency
A phase three clinical trial of a new enzyme replacement medication, sebelipase alfa, showed a reduction in multiple disease-related symptoms in children and adults with lysosomal acid lipase deficiency, an inherited enzyme deficiency that can result in scarring of the liver and high cholesterol.
Adult High Blood Pressure Risk Identifiable in Childhood
Groups of people at risk of having high blood pressure and other related health issues by age 38 can be identified in childhood, new University of Otago research suggests.
Analyzing Protein Structures in Their Native Environment
Enhanced-sensitivity NMR could reveal new clues to how proteins fold.
Supercoiled DNA is Far More Dynamic Than the “Watson-Crick” Double Helix
Researchers have imaged in unprecedented detail the three-dimensional structure of supercoiled DNA, revealing that its shape is much more dynamic than the well-known double helix.
Mini-kidneys Successfully Grown from Stem Cells
Researchers from Murdoch Childrens Research Institute have perfected a method of turning stem cells into mini-kidneys for use in drug screening, disease modelling and cell therapy.
Scroll Up
Scroll Down
Skyscraper Banner

Skyscraper Banner
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
2,700+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
3,800+ scientific videos