Mammalian embryos are unlike those of any other organism as they must grow within the mother’s body. While other animal embryos grow outside the mother, their embryonic cells can get right to work accepting assignments, such as head, tail or vital organ. By contrast, mammalian embryos must first choose between forming the placenta or creating the baby.

New research at Michigan State University and published in the journal eLife has pinpointed two proteins that are the keys to this decision making. The process of assigning cells to placenta or baby is important because that is when pluripotent cells are made. These adaptable pluripotent cells are critical to stem cell research, and these two proteins could be the key to deciphering how pluripotent cells are born, said Amy Ralston, MSU’s inaugural James K. Billman Jr., M.D. endowed professor and the study’s senior author.

“Pluripotent cells are the progenitors of embryonic stem cells, and they are famous because they can become any part of the body,” she said. “We have discovered a process that regulates the balance between pluripotent and placenta, and it works by changing the physical location of cells within the embryo’s ball of cells.”

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