“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is a question asked of many children but what about stem cells? Stem cells are cells that have not yet chosen a specialized fate, such as becoming a neuron or a white blood cell. At some point, however, each stem cell does decide what it will be when it “grows up,” and these decisions are critical junctures in any organism’s development.
Researchers in the lab of Marianne Bronner, Albert Billings Ruddock Professor of Biology and Biological Engineering at Caltech, have been focused on a particular population of stem cells, called the neural crest, which is found along the organism’s head-to-tail axis. These cells have the ability to differentiate into heart muscle, parts of the facial skeleton, and other tissue types. Now, using chick embryos, a team of researchers from the Bronner laboratory have discovered how a gene called Hmga1 helps the formation of neural crest cells in the early embryo.
A paper describing this research appears in the journal eLife. Graduate student Shashank Gandhi is the paper’s first author.