How do stem cells know what tissues to become? Biologists are turning to computer programming tools to reverse-engineer the code built into our bodies.
SOFTWARE used to keep bugs out of Microsoft Windows programs has begun shedding light on one of the big questions in modern science: how stem cells decide what type of tissue to become.
Not only do the results reveal that cellular decision-making is nowhere near as complicated as expected, they also raise hopes that the software could become a key tool in regenerative medicine.
"It is a sign of the convergence between carbon and silicon-based life," says Chris Mason, a regenerative medicine specialist at University College London. "World-class stem cell scientists and a world-class computer company have found common ground. It is work at such interfaces that brings the big breakthroughs."
Stem cells are the putty from which all tissues of the body are made. That means they have the potential to repair damaged tissue and even grow into new organs.
Embryonic stem cells hold particular promise as they can either renew themselves indefinitely or differentiate into any kind of cell in the body – a property known as pluripotency.