Life is full of choices, not only for people but also for the cells that we’re made of. Scientists in Manchester are studying a simple life form to uncover the basis of cells’ choices, as Michael Regnier reports.
Cells are constantly making decisions about what to do, where to go or when to divide. Many of these decisions are hard-wired in our DNA or strictly controlled by external signals and stimuli. Others, though, seem to be made autonomously by individual cells and yet thousands of independent decisions add up to an apparently organised outcome.
In the developing embryo, there comes a point at which our stem cells each have to decide whether to become a muscle cell or nerve cell, skin or bone. This is called differentiation, and it is crucial that we end up with the right proportion of each cell type to develop into healthy human beings.
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