Toward Reprogramming Gonads to Brains

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Science  21 Jan 2011:
Vol. 331, Issue 6015, pp. 292-293
DOI: 10.1126/science.1201288

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An organism's proper development depends on mechanisms that instruct cells to develop into the myriad of different cell and tissue types that make up the body. Perhaps the most fundamental cell fate difference is between germ cells and somatic cells. Germ cells, such as egg and sperm cells, maintain the reproductive capacity of an organism. Somatic cells, such as nerve, muscle, and skin cells, allow an organism to feed, feel, move, and think. On page 304 of this issue, Tursun et al. (1) report on a simple recipe for transforming germ cells into somatic cells in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. Their recipe requires only two ingredients: expression of a transcription factor called CHE-1 that specifies the fate of somatic cells, and loss of a chromatin regulatory factor called LIN-53 (see the figure). This two-factor approach to transforming cell fates has far-reaching implications for developmental biology and regenerative medicine.