At every moment from fertilisation onwards the creation of a human body requires cells, generated by cell division, to “choose” which of the many possible kinds of cell they will become. How do they decide?
One common view is that there was some step-by-step decision-making process or algorithm to follow. New research from a team of French biologists led by Alice Moussy of the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes suggests that this is not the case.
The researchers microscopic video recordings and single-cell molecular analyses to observe the process of hematopoietic stem cells (cells which can become any one of a number of different kinds of blood cell). They discovered that rather than a single decision event, cell specialisation was a dynamic process involving spontaneous fluctuations between alternative cell states and selective stabilisation of certain states.
In a sense it is a trial-and-error process: each cell independently “tries out” different molecular possibilities – via turning on and off different genes – before settling into a stable state of activated genes and a corresponding shape.
Curated content from the editorial staff at Cosmos Magazine.
Read science facts, not fiction...
There’s never been a more important time to explain the facts, cherish evidence-based knowledge and to showcase the latest scientific, technological and engineering breakthroughs. Cosmos is published by The Royal Institution of Australia, a charity dedicated to connecting people with the world of science. Financial contributions, however big or small, help us provide access to trusted science information at a time when the world needs it most. Please support us by making a donation or purchasing a subscription today.