Stem cells are essential for complex life. These immortal cells – found in embryos and adults – keep on dividing long after other cells have stopped, making more of themselves and generating specialised cells that make up the tissues of the body. But while it’s vital that stem cells can keep on multiplying, it’s also important that they don’t grow out of control and become a cancerous tumour. To find out how stem cells maintain this precarious balance, researchers are studying these snake-like sex organs (gonads) in tiny nematode worms called C. elegans. The brightly coloured patches are two proteins – SYGL-1 (pink) and LST-1 (orange) – which help stem cells maintain their immortal character. By limiting the area in which these proteins are active, the worms ensure that the pool of stem cells stays small. Maybe similar mechanisms are at work in our own bodies to keep our unruly stem cells in check?
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.
BPoD is also available in Catalan at www.bpod.cat with translations by the University of Valencia.