A gene which is essential for stem cells’ capabilities to become any cell type has been identified by researchers at the Hebrew University (HU) of Jerusalem and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).

The discovery represents a further step in the understanding of the ways in which stem cells develop into specific cells. This is a necessary prelude toward the use of stem cell therapy as a means of reversing the consequences of disease and disability.

Dr. Eran Meshorer of the Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences at HU identified the gene known as Chd1. He made the discovery with Ph.D. student Adi Alajem and the UCSF researchers.

Embryonic stem cells (ES), which are primary cells derived from the early developing embryo, are capable of giving rise, according to their environment and conditions, to any cell type.

The scientists discovered that the ES cells need a high degree of open chromatin to enable them to give rise to other cell types.

In the study, which was published recently in Nature magazine, they showed, using mouse ES cells, that Chd1 regulates open chromatin in ES cells. Depletion of Chd1 in embryonic stem cells prevented the ability of the cells to generate all types of tissues.