A person's body constantly sheds dead skin cells, and new cells well up to take their places. Stem cells in the skin generate this continuous stream of biological units. Now, researchers have identified a master gene that enables these stem cells to retain their regenerative capacity.
The gene, called p63, is crucial for the maintenance of stem cell lines in epithelial tissues including skin, thymus, prostate, and breast, say Frank McKeon of the Harvard Medical School in Boston and his coworkers. An adult stem cell spawns a daughter cell that then develops into one of the various cell types within a particular organ. This process raises the possibility of treatments in which doctors would use stem cells to regenerate damaged tissues.