How do you like your eggs in the morning? Worm simulations reveal stem cell behaviour (press release)

Simulations of growing stem cells show for the first time how stem cells in worms grow into the egg laying organ of worms, with implications for how we think about cancer.

Researchers at Microsoft Research, the universities of Cambridge, Leicester and Zurich used advanced computational tools to develop a mathematical description of the process. This technique gave them a window into the organ growth which is hard to see using available methods. The process in the worm shares many similarities with human organ development, and the insights from this study can be used to understand human development and cancer progression.

“When an organ is growing, the cells which make up the organ have to make decisions- here for example, they can choose to stay as stem cells or to develop into eggs” said Dr Ben Hall, MRC Cancer Unit researcher in Cambridge University. “To make sure they make the right ones at the right time, the worm controls how signals are sent and received by the cells. This is made even harder by the process of growth because the cells are constantly moving and jostling with one another for space. Our work shows us how this could happen with unprecedented detail.”

Working with experimental scientists, the team are now looking to test the new predictions.

“The work brings concepts from software verification and computer science into biology, showing how they can draw out novel insights” said Dr Jasmin Fisher, group leader in the Department of Biochemistry at Cambridge University and Microsoft Research. “These advanced computational concepts offer us unique opportunities to address the challenges posed by complex biological systems.”

Biophysical Journal, Volume 109, Issue 2, 21 July 2015, Pages 428–438

http://authors.elsevier.com/sd/article/S0006349515005895

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