The secrets of cell development
Amazingly, all the cells in our body have exactly the same DNA and yet still manage to be completely different and carry out different jobs, from pumping our hearts to fighting off infections!
We have epigenetic marks to thank for this. Epigenetic marks (special molecules that attach at certain areas of the DNA) control how a DNA sequence is read and provide a mechanism for cell memory, without affecting the DNA sequence itself. These marks allow cells to interpret the uniform genetic information in different ways, by switching different genes on or off. The marks also help cells to remember which genes should be on and off and they can also pass this information onto other cells during cell division.
Without these epigenetic mechanisms cells would lose their identity, and to some extent that is what happens in diseases like cancer.
BBSRC-funded Professor Wolf Reik and Dr Fatima Santos, from the University Of Cambridge and The Babraham Institute, are studying stem cells, like the cells above, to find out more about epigenetic information: research which is providing us with new approaches to improve the potential of stem cells for regenerative medicine.
Image credits: Dr Fatima Santos
Read more: http://www.epigenesys.eu/en/