Researchers at the BBSRC-funded Babraham Institute, in collaboration with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute Single Cell Genomics Centre, have developed a powerful new single-cell technique to help investigate how the environment affects our development and the traits we inherit from our parents. The technique can be used to map all of the ‘epigenetic marks’ on the DNA within a single cell. This single-cell approach will boost understanding of embryonic development, could enhance clinical applications like cancer therapy and fertility treatments, and has the potential to reduce the number of mice currently needed for this research.
‘Epigenetic marks’ are chemical tags or proteins that mark DNA and act as a kind of cellular memory. They do not change the DNA sequence but record a cell’s experiences onto the DNA, which allows cells to remember an experience long after it has faded. Placing these tags is part of normal development; they tell genes whether to be switched on or off and so can determine how the cell develops. Different sets of active genes make a skin cell different from a brain cell, for example. However, environmental cues such as diet can also alter where epigenetic tags are laid down on DNA and influence an organism’s long-term health.
Dr Gavin Kelsey, from the Babraham Institute, said: “The ability to capture the full map of these epigenetic marks from individual cells will be critical for a full understanding of early embryonic development, cancer progression and aid the development of stem cell therapies.
“Epigenetics research has mostly been reliant on using the mouse as a model organism to study early development. Our new single-cell method gives us an unprecedented ability to study epigenetic processes in human early embryonic development, which has been restricted by the very limited amount of tissue available for analysis.”
The new research, published in Nature Methods, offers a new single-cell technique capable of analysing DNA methylation – one of the key epigenetic marks – across the whole genome. The method treats the cellular DNA with a chemical called bisulphite. Treated DNA is then amplified and read on high-throughput sequencing machines to show up the location of methylation marks and the genes being affected.
These analyses will help to define how epigenetic changes in individual cells during early development drive cell fate. Current methods observe epigenetic marks in multiple, pooled cells. This can obscure modifications taking place in individual cells at a time in development when each cell has the potential to form in a unique way. The new method has already revealed that many of the methylation marks that differ between individual cells are precisely located in sites that control gene activity.
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To manufacture stem cells for cell therapy, standards for other materials critical for the cells' growth and survival must also be considered. (Do you know what ancillary materials are needed in order to manufacture a cell therapy?
Turns out the show on stem cells that I and some others in the stem cell field will be on with Stephen Hawking that is airing next Monday, February 3rd, on the Science Channel is called “Stem Cell Universe with Stephen Hawking” (scroll down in this...
Stem Cells:An Insider's Guide - Kindle edition by Paul Knoepfler. Download it once and read it on your Kindle device, PC, phones or tablets. Use features like bookmarks, note taking and highlighting while reading Stem Cells:An Insider's Guide.
In collaboration with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI/USA), BERG researchers at the Stem Cell Bioengineering and Regenerative Medicine Laboratory (SCBL) have recently developed a 3D microarray platform to perform high-throughput studies of human Neural Stem Cell (hNSC) Differentiation and Toxicology. By using this platform it is possible to screen for the differential toxicity of small molecules to hNSCs which may help to predict, in vitro, which compounds pose an increased threat to neural development and should therefore be prioritized for further screening and evaluation. The work was published in “Stem Cell Research” journal. Click on title to learn more,
3-D Printed Tissues Advance Stem Cell Research Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Dai will use the five-year, $440,000 grant to advance his research into bio-fabricating human tissues with 3-D cell printing technology.
This blog is having a stem cell image contest. Submit your favorite, original photomicrographs of stem cells. Prizes include a $100 gift card, cool stem cell logo t-shirts (see at left), and signed copies of my book, Stem Cells: An Insider’s Guide.
LifeMap Discovery is an unprecedented interactive user-friendly searchable database that provides comprehensive coverage of stem cell research and developmental biology. Contains important protocols for differentiation, gene expression profiles, and more. The team at the Student Society for Stem Cell Research (SSSCR) is impressed by the educational potential of this platform and its significance for the research community.
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