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Molecular Switch Finding May Help Drive Stem Cells to Desired Cell Type

Using CRISPR, epigenetic researchers at the Babraham Institute in the United Kingdom control gene activity in human embryonic stem cells.  The understanding of the targeted molecular switches on PRC2 increases the efficiency of differentiating stem cells, furthering their regenerative medicine research.

Here are their findings:

  • During development of an embryo and during the specialization of stem cells the activity of genes must be tightly controlled.
  • A process called epigenetics controls the genes so that they are switched on and off at the right time and in the right cells.
  • Protein complex, Polycomb Repressive Complex 2 (PRC2), keeps genes switched off until they are needed.
  • Researchers deleted PRC2 from the human embryonic stem cells using CRISPR gene-editing.
  • Deletion of PRC2 revealed the protein complex’s role in controlling identity-specifying genes, keeping them switched off until needed in embryonic development.
  • Without PRC2, embryonic cells do not specialize into mature cell types correctly.

In conclusion these researchers have uncovered human-specific differences in the way that embryonic stem cells respond to genes being manipulated, bringing new awareness into the development of our own species.