University of Cambridge > > Kelvin Club - The Scientific Society of Peterhouse, Cambridge > The Awakening of the Genome: How Embryonic Transcriptional Programs are Initiated

The Awakening of the Genome: How Embryonic Transcriptional Programs are Initiated

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ABSTRACT The human body arises from only a single cell which harbours the entire genetic information and developmental potential to give rise to a fully grown organism. This totipotent cell, the zygote, undergoes extensive cellular changes during the first days of early embryonic development. The ‘Awakening of the Genome’ of the zygote is one of the key processes of mammalian embryogenesis, and it comprises of the structural reorganisation of our genetic code (the genome), its modification (the epigenome) and its expression (the transcriptome). Zygotic genome activation (ZGA) in the 8-cell human embryo represents the first major wave of transcription which initiates protein production and creates all essential building blocks of the developing embryo. Failure to initiate ZGA accurately is fatal for the embryo. Despite its major importance for human reproduction and health, analysing the totipotent human zygote molecularly and how it activates its genome, is ethically and technically problematic. Here, we report the finding of a novel in vitro cell type, that can be used to study the process of embryonic genome activation in stem cells in cell culture. These human ‘8-cell like cells’ resemble the totipotent human 8-cell embryo at the time of ZGA – transcriptionally, epigenetically and phenotypically. These 8-cell like cells represent a new model system that allows us, for the first time, to analyse and manipulate the molecular processes of human genome activation in a controllable and non-invasive way in vitro. This will enhance our understanding of one of the earliest events in human development – ‘The Awakening of the Genome’.

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This talk is part of the Kelvin Club - The Scientific Society of Peterhouse, Cambridge series.

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