How do complex biological structures -- such as an eye, hand or brain -- emerge from a single fertilized egg? This is the fundamental question of developmental biology and a mystery still being grappled with by scientists who hope to one day apply the same principles to heal damaged tissues or re-grow ailing organs. Now, researchers have demonstrated the ability to program groups of individual cells to self-organize into multi-layered structures reminiscent of simple organisms or the first stages of embryonic development. A critical part of development is that, as biological structures form, cells communicate with one another and make coordinated, collective decisions about how to structurally organize themselves. To mimic this process, the new research relied on a powerfully customizable synthetic signaling molecule called synNotch, or synthetic Notch receptor, which allowed the researchers to program cells to respond to specific cell-to-cell communication signals with bespoke genetic programs. The researchers envision programming the self-organization of the elaborate structures that would eventually be needed for growing tissues for wound repair or transplant.
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