Developmental biologists try to understand how cells that are at first identical differentiate into the specialised cell types that make up tissues and organs.
Now researchers in the College of Life Sciences at Dundee, led by Professor Pauline Schaap, have identified a molecule called cyclic-di-GMP as being the `signal’ which can induce differentiation into stalk cells.
The Schaap laboratory studies a simple multicellular organism, Dictyostelium, in which motile cells (those which can move spontaneously) differentiate into two immobile cell types: stalk cells and spores.
In earlier research they showed that cyclic AMP induces the differentiation of spores. Now they have identified another molecule, cyclic-di-GMP, as the signal that induces the differentiation of stalk cells.
The new research is published in the journal Nature.
“Our work presents the opportunity to fully understand how cells learned to become different from each other in early multicellular organisms,” said Professor Schaap.
“These findings are also remarkable because cyclic-di-GMP was previously only found in bacteria, where it causes bacteria to lose motility and transform into large sticky colonies, known as biofilms. The fact that an organism like Dictyostelium, which is very far removed from bacteria, uses the same mechanism is very interesting and suggests that the processes which cause cell differentiation in eukaryotes, like ourselves, may have very deep evolutionary origins.”
The work has been funded by the Wellcome Trust and BBSRC, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.
NOTES TO EDITORS
LIFE SCIENCES AT DUNDEE
With more than 1000 scientists, research students and support staff from 58 countries and external funding in excess of £30 million per year, the College of Life Sciences at the University of Dundee is one of the largest and most productive Life Sciences research institutes in Europe. Consistently voted one of ‘the best places for a life scientist to work’ by The Scientist magazine, the College has an international reputation for its basic and translational research and was recognised in the 2011 Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council Excellence with Impact Awards for ‘Greatest Delivery of Impact’. The University of Dundee is the central hub for a multi-million pound biotechnology sector in the east of Scotland, which now accounts for 16% of the local economy. www.dundee.ac.uk.
The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. It supports the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. The Trust’s breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial interests.
BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
Funded by the UK Government, and with an annual budget of around £445M (2011-2012), we support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
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