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|An RNA Switch for Stem Cells|
An RNA Switch for Stem Cells
To answer that question, the researchers focused on understanding lincRNAs' role in embryonic stem cells. Using a technique called RNA interference, they systematically shut down the function of each of more than 200 lincRNAs previously identified as playing a role in embryonic stem cells. They then profiled the genes expressed in the cells and studied their functions. They found that most lincRNAs have widespread effects on cells, and that they help control the fate of stem cells. The team identified about two dozen lincRNAs that help maintain the cell's pluripotency—its ability to beget all other kinds of cells—and a similar number of lincRNAs that repress genes involved in differentiating into other cell types.
Nudging stem cells to differentiate has proved challenging so far, and scientists have been looking for better ways. Guttman says that inhibiting lincRNAs in specific combinations may make it possible to direct stem cells to transform in specific ways. George Daley, a stem-cell biologist at Harvard Medical School and Children's Hospital Boston, says that further probing the effects of lincRNAs "will help refine our capacity to control and manipulate cells in culture, and this will advance the utility of stem cells for regenerative medicine."
Guttman and colleagues propose that lincRNAs have an important coordinating function in the cell: like sergeants commanding military units, single lincRNAs seem to interact with and control large complexes of proteins. He says that these large RNAs also seem to be put together in a modular way, like molecular Tinkertoys. Learning how they're put together could allow scientists to design and assemble RNAs to perform very specific tasks—and manipulate cells.
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