Discovery could aid in therapeutic cloning, clamping down on cancer

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Protein may tip the cell-fate balance

“Our focus is to understand the very first few steps that drive a cell to become an intestinal cell instead of a muscle cell,” says Yang Shi, Harvard Medical School associate professor of pathology. Shi and his research team, working with worms, recently found a key molecule, CBP-1, that pushes young embryonic cells to become part of a specific organ or type of tissue. Though the molecule occurs in worms, it is similar to one found in humans. As such, the discovery, which was published in the January 2001 issue of the journal EMBO Reports, could have implications for cloning and cancer in human beings. “To do cloning in higher organisms you have to understand how tissues form,” said Shi. “You have to know how pluripotent cells adopt specific cell fates. Our focus here is to really understand these questions.”