Artificial genes have helped to learn how stem cells understand who they turn into

(ORDO NEWS) — American researchers have for the first time created artificial Hox genes that regulate the movement of stem cells in the body and ensure the formation of organs in the right places.

In DNA, these genes are located in dense clusters, which made it difficult to study them, and the study was the first practical confirmation of the role of Hox genes.

Almost all highly organized animals are characterized by bilateral symmetry, that is, they have one plane, relative to which their bodies are mirror-symmetrical. An anterior-posterior axis can also be drawn through their body, running from head to tail.

During embryonic development, the movement of cells along this axis is regulated by Hox genes: they ensure that all organs, tissues and limbs develop in the correct places. When Hox genes fail as a result of mutations, birth defects appear.

Hox genes are organized into dense clusters and are located in the part of DNA where other genes and repeating elements of the genome are absent. This makes it very difficult to study Hox genes using standard gene editing methods, since a change in one Hox gene can affect the next one.

To solve this problem, scientists from New York University (USA) created artificial Hox genes and found out what is the smallest unit of the genome a cell needs to know its place in the body.

Previously, experts have already created a completely synthetic yeast genome, but now they have transferred this technology to mammalian cells. The authors of the article created long strands of synthetic DNA containing sequences of mouse Hox genes with various mutations and introduced them into animal stem cells.

In mammals, Hox clusters are surrounded by regulatory regions of the genome that control their activation. Until now, it remained unknown whether the Hox cluster alone is enough for a cell to determine its place in the body, or whether other elements of the genome are required for this. It turned out that only clusters of Hox genes are enough for cells.

The creation of synthetic DNA and artificial genes paves the way for future research into the development of organisms. Different types of animals have a very different body shape, which depends, among other things, on the work of Hox genes.

Therefore, studies of Hox clusters will help to understand how such an impressive variety of life forms appeared. In addition, the new technology will be useful for the study of genetic diseases, as it will allow the creation of model DNA in the laboratory.

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