Stem cells are pluripotent - in other words, they have the potential to develop into all kinds of other cells. Until now, a key contributor to this incipient state is a protein known as Nanog, which disappears once the cells start to differentiate. It turns out that Nanog also has a rather different role to play, as revealed in a paper published in Nature.
Ian Chambers and colleagues show that Nanog safeguards the pluripotent state of embryonic stem cells, resetting them if they start to differentiate when they shouldn't - it is not an essential cog in the machinery responsible for pluripotency, as previously believed. It also has another, hitherto unsuspected, part to play in helping egg and sperm cells to develop correctly.
Nanog seems to appear in waves during early development and implantation of the embryo. Before too long we may have a clearer picture of how this molecule brings its talents together.
Ian Chambers (University of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK)
(C) Nature press release.
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