When we’re born we have the potential to become anything from an astronaut to a zookeeper, but as we grow up our options narrow. The same is true of cells, with stem cells representing that time in our life when anything is possible. A stem cell can transform into any cell the body requires (such as neurons, pictured) - a trait that scientists are keen to harness to treat disease. The adult human body doesn’t have an ample supply of stem cells, so efforts are underway to convert mature, specialised cells into induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. Scientists have already succeeded using viral DNA that wheedles itself into the mature cell’s genome to reprogramme it. Now a potentially safer way has been developed. Cells from urine were infected with bacterial DNA, which didn’t disrupt the cells’ genome but still converted them into iPS cells. These were then nurtured into neurons.
Written by Lux Fatimathas
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.
BPoD is also available in Catalan at www.bpod.cat with translations by the University of Valencia.