In real science

Nicholas J Albertini

A team of scientists led by Ji Wu at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China have reported to Nature Cell Biology that they discovered a new type of gamete-producing cell in female adult mice. Textbooks have printed that adult female mammals are incapable of generating new egg cells for decades. If this discovery is correct, adult animals are capable of this, as the Chinese team claims to have extracted and cultured these cells.
They further claim to have tagged some of these gamete-producing cells with green florescent protein genes and to have implanted the cells into chemically sterilized female mice; according to the researchers, these mice produced viable offspring, one third of which were visibly tagged with GFP genes. Thus, the research team claims to have used non-egg cells from healthy mice to produce egg cells in sterile mice. While some scientists are now questioning their method and whether or not the sterile mice were all really sterile, it is evident that a large number of the offspring were in fact tagged with the GFP gene.
It does not seem likely that genetic contamination between implanted cells and already present egg cells could account for such a high amount of the GFP reporter gene in the offspring. No doubt, many other labs will quickly attempt to verify this evidence with a number of precise experiments. If these cells do produce egg cells in adult mice, and if they can be transplanted, there is a chance that such a procedure could benefit humans with reproductive issues. This is especially true if such cells can be generated from stem cells.
Another research team at UT Southwestern Medical Center reported to the Journal of Molecular and Cellular Cardiology evidence that a certain protein, found in embryos during the stage in which the heart develops, could aid victims of heart attack. The protein, thymosin beta-4, experimentally caused cardiovascular tissues and heart muscle to regenerate after heart attack in mice following simple injection of the protein. Thymosin beta-4 apparently triggers regeneration by activating genes dormant since the embryonic stage of development. This protein is also active in human embryos and should logically perform the same action in human subjects.
If thymosin beta-4 does function similarly in humans, it could revolutionize cardiac medicine. With this protein’s activity, patients with heart trauma could heal. Healing is generally not possible because the heart normally only produces new cells very slowly, nowhere near fast enough to allow the heart to significantly heal from trauma.
One wonders how many other molecules like thymosin beta-4 might activate such developmental genes and allow humans to regenerate any number of other tissues without the need for stem cell or transplantation therapies. Now, if they could only give me an injection to fix my brain …