Monday, 21 January 2013

On converting skin cells to neurons through protein suppression

So how simple is it to convert one type of cell to another type of cell?
Apparently, very simple.
All you have to do is suppress a single protein.
Scientists recently tried RNA molecules to repress a protein called PTB (not PBJ, unfortunately. That would have been cool). PTB is a protein that binds to RNA, and helps to regulate gene expression. Very low levels of this protein leads to certain genes being activated; these genes can convert skin cells to neurons. The genes allow trans-differentiation; this is when fully differentiated cells decide they're bored of who they are and convert to a totally different type of cell.

This information is drawn from the short piece in the Nature journal about this. It refers to a study done by researchers at University of California, San Diego and Wuhan University in Wuhan

This discovery is kind of a big deal. It would allow scientists who wanted to play around with neurons simply 'make' them from skin cells; they would no longer need to use undifferentiated stem cells to create neurons. I'm not a scientist myself, so I don't know how it could be used specifically, but certainly it sounds like it could have great far-reaching implications for researchers

Also, I can't help thinking this would be a great(or really, really bad) science-fiction movie plot.

Certainly it's a surprise to learn that converting differentiated skin cells to neurons is as simple as blocking production of a protein.

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