Obtaining or creating stem cell cultures is one thing, but making them do what you want once you have them? That can be a challenge.
In new research at the University of Washington, scientists were able to engineer specialized yeast cells that could communicate through a plant hormone called Auxin. These cells were then able to influence each other's behaviour, 'talking' to each other through the hormone and regulating expression of an implanted, green jellyfish gene.
"This project was to find out whether we could use auxin to make the cells talk to each other in a really simple way," said Dr. Klavins. "We're not sending complicated messages yet. One cell is saying 'hello?' and the other cell says 'I can hear you.' Eventually they'll say 'I'm this kind of cell. What are you? Let's work together.' But for now it's pretty much 'hi.'"
The project is only a beginning, but because auxin is a plant hormone human cells don't respond to it. This could provide safer control and minimise adverse reactions, as only engineered cells would respond. Understanding more about how cells communicate properly at each step of organ formation is key to progress in growing them.
"If you ask someone in computer science what they can do with a programming language, they'll laugh and say they can do anything with it," said Dr. Klavins. "If we can figure out the programming language of life, we can do anything that life does, except in a more controllable, reliable way."
Read more at Genetic Engineering News