Phlogiston theory was a conceptual breakthrough that helped chemists conduct experiments and share ideas. Only when it came to pinning down the distinctive physical properties of phlogiston did it become clear that no such thing exists. Now an opinion piece by Arthur Lander, published in BioMed Central's open access Journal of Biology, argues that the idea of stem cells—a major conceptual breakthrough in biology—is running into similar troubles as investigators try to pin it down to a set of distinctive molecular characteristics.
Professor Lander, Director of the Center for Complex Biological Systems at the University of California, Irvine, USA, argues that neither of the two properties that define 'stem cells' as they are popularly discussed, potency and self-renewal, can be ascribed an exclusive molecular basis, and that both are seen in cell types not usually described as stem cells. He said, "It is curious that, after 45 years, we are unable to place the notion of 'stemness' on a purely molecular footing. Of course, the fact that a goal has not been achieved after a long time does not mean that the answer is not around the corner. But it does give one cause to wonder whether something we are doing needs to change, either in the question we are asking or the way we are approaching it".
Lander writes that 'stemness' should be considered a property of systems, rather than individual cells, describing how a system with stemness is one that can achieve a controlled size, maintain itself homeostatically, and regenerate when necessary. He argues that such behaviors naturally emerge as a consequence of basic engineering principles of feedback control. This is more than a minor semantic quibble - just one practical consequence of an inaccurate understanding of the precise nature of stem cells may be the assumption that specific chemotherapeutic targeting of 'cancer stem cells' will necessarily stop tumors in their tracks. As Lander writes, "If feedback and lineage progression continue to take place in cancerous tissues, we might observe that under different conditions - different stages of tumorigensis, different parts of a tumor, different amounts of tumor cells - that different cell types will assume the role of cancer stem cell".
He concludes, "Like phlogiston, the term 'stem cell' is a scientific concept. Just as investigating the concept of phlogiston allowed the discovery of oxygen and the process of oxidation, it may be that by refashioning our thinking about stem cells – with systems relationships and dynamics taking the place of molecular signatures and simple gene regulatory circuits - the concept of stemness will continue to light the path toward understanding".
Notes to Editors1. The 'stem cell' concept: is it holding us back?
3. BioMed Central (http://www.biomedcentral.com/) is an STM (Science, Technology and Medicine) publisher which has pioneered the open access publishing model. All peer-reviewed research articles published by BioMed Central are made immediately and freely accessible online, and are licensed to allow redistribution and reuse. BioMed Central is part of Springer Science+Business Media, a leading global publisher in the STM sector.
Enzyme with surprising dual function
24.01.2018 | Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn
Flexibility and arrangement - the interaction of ribonucleic acid and water
24.01.2018 | Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V.
Physicists have developed a technique based on optical microscopy that can be used to create images of atoms on the nanoscale. In particular, the new method allows the imaging of quantum dots in a semiconductor chip. Together with colleagues from the University of Bochum, scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute reported the findings in the journal Nature Photonics.
Microscopes allow us to see structures that are otherwise invisible to the human eye. However, conventional optical microscopes cannot be used to image...
On the way to an intelligent laboratory, physicists from Innsbruck and Vienna present an artificial agent that autonomously designs quantum experiments. In initial experiments, the system has independently (re)discovered experimental techniques that are nowadays standard in modern quantum optical laboratories. This shows how machines could play a more creative role in research in the future.
We carry smartphones in our pockets, the streets are dotted with semi-autonomous cars, but in the research laboratory experiments are still being designed by...
What enables electrons to be transferred swiftly, for example during photosynthesis? An interdisciplinary team of researchers has worked out the details of how...
For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.
Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...
At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.
No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...
08.01.2018 | Event News
11.12.2017 | Event News
08.12.2017 | Event News
24.01.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
24.01.2018 | Health and Medicine
24.01.2018 | Health and Medicine