Researchers discover mechanisms, epigenetic markers with implications for diseases ranging from cancers to infertility

April 30, 2018, University of Maryland
Credit: Public domain

A UMD researcher has uncovered new mechanisms that dictate the development of germline stem cells or germ cells, the only cell type capable of passing genetic information on to the next generation. Stem cell research is on the foreground of new knowledge for fighting disease, and mechanisms in this study were found to be associated with genes responsible for cancers and viral infections among other major health issues. Markers used to identify male germ cells were also discovered, exploring how environmental factors or epigenetics affect these cells and providing significant insight into treatments for male infertility. These findings not only unlock future animal and human health research in these areas, but also set the stage for chickens as a more prominent model organism for stem cell research.

Stem cell research has applications for treating cancer, heart disease, neurological disorders like Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, and even injuries. These can replicate and replace damaged tissue, so understanding their development is important to the future of this work. Epigenetic factors, or that affect the way genes are expressed, can also play a large role in cell and tissue development, and no studies have previously looked at the mechanisms at play in germline stem cell development and how epigenetics play a role.

"From genome to phenome as it is called is a very complicated process for different gene networks to create the trait you see in an animal or human. The activity of key genes is the same or similar in common cell types, but the activity of other genes may differ completely among species, especially for the roles of ," explains Dr. Jiuzhou Song, Professor in the Department of Animal and Avian Sciences, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. "Looking at these mechanisms helps to decode genes, understand complex traits, and develop future treatment plans to better understand animal and ."

That was the focus of this study, examining to clarify mechanisms that factor into germ cell development and gene expression. Specific processes were discovered for individual genes with associations to cancers and , and markers used to identify and track genes were discovered in male cells with implications for infertility treatments. These epigenetic markers are unique to chickens, which is an up and coming animal model that is in many ways ideal for the study of epigenetics, stem cells, and developmental research.

"Most people still think of mice when they think of animal models that support animal and human health research. But regulatory elements are quite similar between the chicken and human genome. In fact, the genetic similarity between a human and a chicken is about 60%. The development of chickens is rapid, easy to see, and easy to manipulate, making them very unique compared to other animal models. They are ideal for developmental and stem cell research because you can easily observe egg growth and the development process in real time," says Song.

Dr. Song is not only devoted to this work with animal genetics and connections to human health in mind, but is also thinking about the broiler chicken industry and overall animal welfare. "This work provides a deeper understanding of developmental mechanisms in chickens that lead to healthier chickens and humans," says Song. "The applications and need for epigenetic is great, and chickens are a great model for this work."

Dr. Song's paper is published in Stem Cell Reports.

More information: Yanghua He et al, DNA Methylation and Regulatory Elements during Chicken Germline Stem Cell Differentiation, Stem Cell Reports (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.stemcr.2018.03.018

Related Stories

Recommended for you

New method for studying ALS more effectively

December 13, 2018
The neurodegenerative disease ALS causes motor neuron death and paralysis. However, long before the cells die, they lose contact with muscles as their axons atrophy. Researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have now ...

Paternal grandfather's high access to food may indicate higher mortality risk in grandsons

December 12, 2018
A paternal grandfather's access to food during his childhood is associated with mortality risk, especially cancer mortality, in his grandson, shows a large three-generational study from Stockholm University. The reason might ...

New genetic study could lead to better treatment of severe asthma

December 12, 2018
The largest-ever genetic study of people with moderate-to-severe asthma has revealed new insights into the underlying causes of the disease which could help improve its diagnosis and treatment.

Researchers use computer model to predict prostate cancer progression

December 12, 2018
An international team of cancer researchers from Denmark and Germany have used cancer patient data to develop a computer model that can predict the progression of prostate cancer. The model is currently being implemented ...

New understanding of mysterious 'hereditary swelling'

December 12, 2018
For the first time ever, biomedical researchers from Aarhus University, Denmark, report cellular defects that lead to a rare disease, hereditary angioedema (HAE), in which patients experience recurrent episodes of swelling ...

Receiving genetic information can change risk

December 11, 2018
Millions of people in the United States alone have submitted their DNA for analysis and received information that not only predicts their risk for disease but, it turns out, in some cases might also have influenced that risk, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.