Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
Stem Cells, Cellular Therapy & Biobanking
Scientific Community
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 2,600+ 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

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
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
Grant Supports Creation of Patient-Derived Stem Cell Lines
Researchers have received a two-year, $600,000 grant from the National Institute on Aging to develop and study patient-derived stem cell lines.
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Prostate Cancer Stem Cells are a Moving Target
Researchers have discovered how prostate cancer stem cells evolve as the disease progresses, a finding that could help point the way to more highly targeted therapies.
Friday, December 06, 2013
Researchers Change Cell Types by Flipping a Single Switch
New findings have identified a method for changing one cell type into another in a process called forced transdifferentiation.
Friday, December 06, 2013
Understanding a Protein’s Role in Familial Alzheimer’s
Researchers have used genetic engineering of human iPSC’s to specifically and precisely parse the roles of a key mutated protein in causing familial Alzheimer's disease (AD).
Monday, November 18, 2013
Researchers Un-Junking Junk DNA
A study shines a new light on molecular tools our cells use to govern regulated gene expression.
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
$100M gift launches Sanford Stem Cell Clinical Center
T. Denny Sanford has committed $100 million to the creation of the Sanford Stem Cell Clinical Center at the University of California, San Diego.
Wednesday, November 06, 2013
Grafted Limb Cells Acquire Molecular ‘Fingerprint’ of New Location
Findings further creation of regenerative therapies for humans.
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
From Mature Cells to Embryonic-Like Stem Cells
Bioengineers have shown that physical cues can replace certain chemicals when nudging mature cells back to a pluripotent stage.
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Researchers Develop Stem Cell Therapies for Acute Lung Injury
An estimated 200,000 patients a year have acute respiratory failure in the U.S. and mortality is about 30 to 40 percent.
Monday, October 21, 2013
Single Gene Mutation Linked to Neurological Disorders
Mutation could offer insights into Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntigton’s Diseases.
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Gene Repair Technique Could Have Many Applications
Using human pluripotent stem cells and DNA-cutting protein from meningitis bacteria, researchers have created an efficient way to target and repair defective genes.
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Therapy Could Treat Breast Cancer that's Spread to Brain
Researchers have successfully combined cellular therapy and gene therapy in a mouse-model system to develop a viable treatment strategy for breast cancer that has spread to a patient's brain.
Tuesday, August 06, 2013
Scientists Streamline Production of Stem Cells
Researchers report a simple, easily reproducible RNA-based method of generating human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs).
Friday, August 02, 2013
Scientific News
Snapshot Turns T Cell Immunology on its Head
New research may have implications for 1 diabetes sufferers.
Developing a Gel that Mimics Human Breast for Cancer Research
Scientists at the Universities of Manchester and Nottingham have been funded to develop a gel that will match many of the biological structures of human breast tissue, to advance cancer research and reduce animal testing.
Lung Repair and Regeneration Gene Discovered
New role for hedgehog gene offers better understanding of lung disease.
Restoring Vision with Stem Cells
Age-related macular degeneration (AMRD) could be treated by transplanting photoreceptors produced by the directed differentiation of stem cells, thanks to findings published today by Professor Gilbert Bernier of the University of Montreal and its affiliated Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital.
The Age of Humans Controlling Microbes
Engineered bacteria could soon be used to detect environmental toxins, treat diseases, and sustainably produce chemicals and fuels.
Gene Expression: A Snapshot of Stem Cell Development
New genes found that regulate development of stem cells.
Tissue-Engineered Colon from Human Cells
A study by scientists at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles has shown that tissue-engineered colon derived from human cells is able to develop the many specialized nerves required for function, mimicking the neuronal population found in native colon.
Tension Helps Heart Cells Develop Normally in the Lab
Stanford engineers have uncovered the important role tension plays in growing heart cells out of the body.
Urine Excretion From Stem Cell-Derived Kidneys
Researchers report a strategy for enabling urine excretion from kidneys grown from stem cells.
Stem Cell Research Hints at Evolution of Human Brain
Researchers at UC San Francisco have succeeded in mapping the genetic signature of a unique group of stem cells in the human brain that seem to generate most of the neurons in our massive cerebral cortex.
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
2,600+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
3,800+ scientific videos