Stem cells are the building blocks during development of organisms as varied as plants and humans.
In addition, stem cells provide for the maintenance and regeneration of tissues, such as blood and skin, throughout the lifetime of an individual. The ability of stem cells to contribute to these processes depends on their ability to divide and generate both new stem cells (self-renewal) as well as specialized cell types (differentiation). The Jones lab uses the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster and 3D human intestinal organoids as model systems to establish paradigms for how stem cell behavior is controlled.
Stem cells lose the potential for continued self-renewal when removed from their normal cellular environment, known as the stem cell “niche,” suggesting an essential role for the niche in controlling stem cell behavior. Adult stem cells can be easily located in the fly intestine and testis, and the stem cells that maintain these tissues are remarkably similar to their mammalian counterparts. Therefore, it is possible to study these cells in the context of their normal environment without destroying the tissue. Being able to study the behavior of stem cells in vivo allows us to begin to ask questions about how the niche can control stem cell self-renewal and survival and how the relationship between stem cells and the niche evolves during development, as a consequence of aging, and during acute and chronic changes in metabolism. Importantly, lessons learned from the study of stem cells in fruit flies has already told us much about how stem cell behavior is regulated in more complex tissues in mammals.
Stem cell behavior, including the decision between self-renewal and the onset of differentiation, is influenced by the surrounding environment, or...