We would not expect a baby to join a team or participate in social situations that require sophisticated communication. Yet, most developmental biologists have assumed that young cells, only recently born from stem cells and known as "progenitors," are already competent at inter-communication with other cells. New research from Carnegie's Dr. Allan Spradling and postdoctoral fellow Dr. Ming-Chia Lee shows that infant cells have to go through a developmental process that involves specific genes before they can take part in the group interactions that underlie normal cellular development and keep our tissues functioning smoothly. The existence of a childhood state where cells cannot communicate fully has potentially important implications for our understanding of how gene activity on chromosomes changes both during normal development and in cancerous cells. The work is published in Genes and Development. The way that the molecules that package a cell's chromosomes are organized in order to control gene activity is known as the cell's "epigenetic state." The epigenetic state is fundamental to understanding Dr. Spradling’s and Dr. Lee's findings. To developmental biologists, changes in this epigenetic state ultimately explain how the cell's properties are altered during tissue maturation. "In short, acquired epigenetic changes in a developing cell are reminiscent of the learned changes the brain undergoes during childhood," Dr. Spradling explained. "Just as it remains difficult to map exactly what happens in a child's brain as it learns, it is still very difficult to accurately measure epigenetic changes during cellular development. Not enough cells can usually be obtained that are at precisely the same stage for scientists to map specific molecules at specific chromosomal locations." Dr. Lee and Dr.
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