From New Scientist:
The key gene that keeps embryonic stem cells in a state of youthful immortality has been discovered.
The breakthrough may one day contribute to turning ordinary adult cells into those with the properties of human ESCs. This would end the need to destroy embryos to harvest the cells for new medical treatments.
ESCs are unique as they are “pluripotent” – capable of differentiating into the different cells in the body – and hold great potential for treating damaged or diseased organs. But until now scientists did not know how a stem cell renews itself or develops into an new kind of cell.
The gene found in mouse ESCs and some human equivalents appears to be the “master gene”, coordinating other genes to allow stem cells to multiply limitlessly while still retaining their ability to differentiate. It has been christened Nanog after the land in Celtic myth called Tir nan Og, whose inhabitants remain forever young.