Embryonic stem cells have the unique ability to differentiate into the many different cell lineages found in the body.  These changes in cell identity are driven by the co-ordinated regulation of large cohorts of genes.  Laura Grasso and Olga Suska, PhD students at the Centre for Gene Regulation and Expression at the University of Dundee, have discovered a new mechanism of gene regulation that is important for embrylaura-grasso-olga-suskaonic stem cells to differentiate into neural cells.  They found that the process of mRNA cap methylation is rewired during embryonic stem cell differentiation, which impacts almost all genes in the cell.

“Laura and Olga have made a major discovery about the way that embryonic stem cells function and change identity. These finding have important implications in understanding human development and for medical research.  It is impressive that two PhD students, carrying out their first research project, made this discovery.  This involved Laura and Olga teaching themselves how to do many experiments and bioinformatics analyses that had not been performed in our laboratory before.  In particular, they formed invaluable collaborations with Marios Stavridis, Division of Cell and Developmental Biology, an expert in embryonic stem cell biology and with Lindsay Davidson, Manager of the Human Pluripotent Stem Cell Facility”, said Victoria Cowling, their supervisor.