DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is the hereditary material in humans and almost all other organisms. Nearly every cell in a person’s body has the same DNA. Most DNA is located in the cell nucleus (where it is called nuclear DNA), but a small amount of DNA can also be found in the mitochondria (where it is called mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA).
Epigenetics is the study of changes in gene expression caused by certain base pairs in DNA being “turned off” or “turned on” again, through chemical reactions – like in your environment, diet or nutrition. It has a large say in blood formation – your destiny is not just in DNA's hands. You have the power.
Every day trillions of blood cells are being formed in our body: from the oxygen-carrying red blood cells to the many types of white blood cells that fight pathogens and infection. All of these highly specialized cells originate from blood stem cells unique cells that have the potential to mature into all blood types.
A new paper published in Science by Dr. Ido Amit and David Lara-Astiaso of the Weizmann Institutes Immunology Department, together with Prof. Nir Friedman and Assaf Weiner of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, charted for the first time histone …
The events regulating stem cell fate have remained elusive, in large part, due to technical limitations of measuring open or closed states during development.
Current techniques require sampling of millions of cells to be able to detect and analyze the cell’s epigenetic state accurately; the number of blood stem cells is nowhere near this amount. Coupled with the fact that each stage of development is a fleeting event, these regulatory regions are very difficult to observe. Now with the new epigenetic profiling technique the scientists developed, just a handful of cells – as few as 500 – can be sampled and analyzed accurately.
Using this powerful approach, we were able to identify the exact DNA regulatory sequences, as well as the various regulatory proteins that are involved in controlling stem cell fate – casting light on previously unseen parts of the basic program of life.
Their research has also yielded unexpected results: As many as 50% of these regulatory sequences are established and opened during intermediate stages of cell development. This means that epigenetics is active at stages in which it had been thought that cell destiny was already set.
“This changes our whole understanding of the process of blood stem cell fate decisions,” says Lara-Astiaso, “suggesting that the process is more dynamic and flexible than previously thought, giving the cell slightly more leeway at the later stages in deciding what type of cell to turn into, in case its circumstances change.”
This research was first tested with mouse blood, but as scientist conclude that it is true ti all types of cells. “This research creates a lot of excitement in the field, as it sets the groundwork to study these regulatory elements in humans,” says Weiner. Discovering the exact regulatory DNA sequence controlling stem cell fate, as well as understanding its mechanism, hold promise for the future development of diagnostic tools, personalized medicine, potential therapeutic and nutritional interventions, and perhaps even regenerative medicine, in which committed cells could be reprogrammed and restored back to their full stem cell potential.
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