A new type of human stem cell that has half a genome

A new type of human stem cell that has half a genome

Human cells are considered 'diploid' because they inherit two sets of chromosomes, 46 in total, 23 from the mother and 23 from the father. The only exceptions are reproductive (egg and sperm) cells, known as 'haploid' cells because they contain a single set of 23 chromosomes. These haploid cells cannot divide to make more eggs and sperm.

Scientists now have succeeded in generating a new type of embryonic stem cell that carries a single copy of the human genome, instead of the two copies typically found in normal stem cells. The scientists reported their findings in the journal Nature.

The stem cells described in this paper are the first human cells that are known to be capable of cell division with just one copy of the parent cell's genome. Haploid human ES cells exhibited typical pluripotent stem cell characteristics, such as self-renewal capacity and a pluripotency-specific molecular signature.

Previous efforts to generate embryonic stem cells using human egg cells had resulted in diploid stem cells. In this study, the scientists triggered unfertilized human egg cells into dividing. They then highlighted the DNA with a fluorescent dye and isolated the haploid stem cells, which were scattered among the more populous diploid cells.

The researchers showed that these haploid stem cells were pluripotent -- meaning they were able to differentiate into many other cell types, including nerve, heart, and pancreatic cells -- while retaining a single set of chromosomes.

The researchers were also able to show that by virtue of having just a single copy of a gene to target, haploid human cells may constitute a powerful tool for genetic screens. Being able to affect single-copy genes in haploid human stem cells has the potential to facilitate genetic analysis in biomedical fields such as cancer research, precision and regenerative medicine.

Since the stem cells described in this study were a genetic match to the egg cell donor, they could also be used to develop cell-based therapies for diseases such as blindness, diabetes, or other conditions in which genetically identical cells offer a therapeutic advantage. Because their genetic content is equivalent to germ cells, they might also be useful for reproductive purposes.