stem cells in their environment

What defines a cell's identity and can we reprogram it?

04 December 2014
By Christine Weber

In the human body a multitude of specialised cell types carry out many different functions in different organs. What they all have in common is the genome: the same set of instructions, encoded into their DNA, which regulates their abilities. So how is it possible that cells take on so many diverse jobs, shapes and populate various regions in the body that all require different specialisation? How do they decide which cell type to become – is this decision even up to them or are there external factors at play? Can cell identities and fates in fact be altered? And how would this be relevant for modern medicine?

This EuroStemCell article takes a closer look at these questions and attempts to answer them.

In addition, Professor Thomas Graf and his lab have produced a movie to illustrate their work on cell transdifferentiation (also called lineage reprogramming) where they transform one type of immune cell into another.

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