An international team of scientists has now mapped all the active genes in a fertilised embryo's first few days, providing tantalizing insights into humanity's developmental journey, and offering hope for the future.
The uncharted territory of human development
Progress in regenerative medicine requires that we understand exactly how an embryo becomes your average human - growing the myriad of appendages and organs. What precise signals lead to an arm, or a brain? These are questions that still need answers.
A new study, published in Nature Communications, has shown that out of 23,000 human genes, only 32 are active 2 days after fertilization, and 129 have been activated by the 3rd day. 7 of these genes have never been studied before.
"These genes are the 'ignition key' that is needed to turn on human embryonic development. It is like dropping a stone into water and then watching the waves spread across the surface"
Most genes code for proteins, but there's a large amount of 'junk' DNA which we're still learning about. Some of these junk DNA sequences may aid evolution and also regulate gene expression, which is what this research found. They discovered that some of these activated genes were interacting with the junk DNA.
"Our results provide novel insights into the regulation of early embryonic development in human. We identified novel factors that might be used in reprogramming cells into so-called pluripotent stem cells for possible treatment of a range of diseases, and potentially also in the treatment of infertility"
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