Safeguards for Cell Cooperation in Mouse Embryogenesis Shown by Genome-Wide Cheater Screen

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Science  27 Sep 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6153, pp. 1511-1514
DOI: 10.1126/science.1241628

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Keeping Cells Cooperating

Multicellular organisms have certain advantages over those that are single-celled. To evolve, however, they must surmount a persistent challenge: ensuring that their constituent cells cooperate with one another rather than “cheat” or compete with each other for resources. Dejosez et al. (p. 1511, published online 12 September) performed a genome-wide screen in induced pluripotent stem cells to search for genes that promote cell cooperation. A number of genes were identified of which knockdown allowed competitive behavior to dominate. These genes formed a network centered on p53, topoisomerase 1, and olfactory receptors. Thus, a genetic mechanism may promote cooperation in the developing embryo.


Ensuring cooperation among formerly autonomous cells has been a central challenge in the evolution of multicellular organisms. One solution is monoclonality, but this option still leaves room for exploitative behavior, as it does not eliminate genetic and epigenetic variability. We therefore hypothesized that embryonic development must be protected by robust regulatory mechanisms that prevent aberrant clones from superseding wild-type cells. Using a genome-wide screen in murine induced pluripotent stem cells, we identified a network of genes (centered on p53, topoisomerase 1, and olfactory receptors) whose down-regulation caused the cells to replace wild-type cells in vitro and in the mouse embryo—without perturbing normal development. These genes thus appear to fulfill an unexpected role in fostering cell cooperation.

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