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Animal pluripotent stem cells
Pluripotent stem cells are found in mammalian embryos. Most of what we know about pluripotent stem cells comes from mammalian in vitro models. However, many animals must have some kind of pluripotent stem cells, but these remain unknown in most. Some animals have been shown to have pluripotent stem cells in their adults. Often, this correlates with high regenerative power. Such is the case of the planarian Schmidtea mediterranea. Studying stem cells in vivo has been traditionally very difficult due to the limitations of classic techniques, mostly in situ localisation techniques and fate mapping.
Newly developed techniques of single-cell transcriptomics are emerging as a powerful way to study stem cells. Essentially, cells are dissociated and then thousands of them are subjected to single cell sequencing. The single cell transcriptomic data allows both the identification of the stem cell population from the bulk population and the reconstruction of the several lineages that they differentiate into. This approach will therefore allow the identification of pluripotent stem cells in species where those are still unknown as well as the characterization of the stem cell responses after perturbations like gene knockdown by RNAi or genome editing.
The planarian Schmidtea mediterranea is a powerful in vivo stem cell model organism. Pluripotent stem cells –called neoblasts– present in their adult stages constantly differentiate to all adult cell types and enable the regenerative abilities of planarians. Planarians can regenerate any missing body part in a matter of days. Neoblasts are pluripotent stem cells: one single neoblast can give rise to all cell types of an adult planarian. They are present in large numbers (around a third of all planarian cells are neoblasts) and can be easily isolated by FACS. Gene expression can be manipulated by RNAi. We have already applied single cell sequencing to the planarian model.
We will use single-cell sequencing to find and characterize pluripotent stem cells in a variety of species. If you are interested in collaboration, please contact me.