Every mammal, including human beings, grows as an embryo divides into multiple cells and builds organs. Ability to differentiate comes from ‘pluripotent’ embryonic stem cells, which have the potential to develop into any types of cells or tissue depending on the specific type of signal or stimulus to itself. If we could gain control over pluripotent embryonic stem cells, it would bring a new era in biological engineering as we would be able to make and/or alter numerous types of cells and organs such as nerve cells, skin cells, and so on. However, the mechanism by which pluripotent embryonic stem cells work still remains largely elusive.
Professor Baek Sung-hee (Department of Biological Sciences, Seoul National University) and her research team in collaborat¬ion with POSTECH (Pohang University of Science and Technology), DGIST (Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology), and the National Cancer Center found that Pontin, which had been known as one of the general proteins, plays an essential role in affecting the expression of lincRNA, which is responsible for controlling pluripotent embryonic stem cells.
They observed that expression of Pontin is clearly reduced as an embryonic stem cell differentiates, and built a custom cell that is deficient in Pontin to understand its role. Surprisingly, the embryonic stem cell lacking Pontin differentiates without any pluripotent capabilities, which indicates that Pontin acts as an assistant of the lincRNA gene that maintains the pluripotent ability of embryonic stem cells. They also confirmed that Pontin has effects on the process that creates an ‘induced pluripotent stem cell’, which can propagate indefinitely, as well as give rise to every other cell type in the body.
“This research has significant implications in that Pontin, which had been known as an ordinary general protein, does play a critical role for pluripotent embryonic stem cells,” said Professor BAEK Sung-hee. She also expressed her anticipation that it will open up a new era for regenerative medicine research on recovering damaged organs or cells by using embryonic stem cells. Professor BAEK is interested in “chromatomics”, a study analyzing DNA, RNA and other genetic materials systematically, and her research center has focused on dynamic protein-DNA interaction, chromatin structure and its dynamic changes and analyzing chromatome, which includes genome and epigenome in in vivo systems. For this contribution, she has received numerous awards and honors, including the L’OREAL-UNESCO For Women in Science Award.
* Pluripotent: pluri (“many” in Latin) + potent
- Professor BAEK’s findings have been published online in the March 2015 edition of the journal Nature Communications
- Professor BAEK Sung-hee’s lab: http://biosci.snu.ac.kr/sbaek/
- SNU Department of Biological Sciences: http://biosci.snu.ac.kr/
Written by CHUNG Taejoong, SNU English Editor, firstname.lastname@example.org
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