Germ cell specification and regeneration in planarians
In metazoans, two apparently distinct mechanisms specify germ cell fate: Determinate specification (observed in animals including Drosophila, Caenorhabditis elegans, zebra fish, and Xenopus) uses cytoplasmic factors localized to specific regions of the egg, whereas epigenetic specification (observed in many basal metazoans, urodeles, and mammals) involves inductive interactions between cells. Much of our understanding of germ cell specification has emerged from studies of model organisms displaying determinate specification. In contrast, our understanding of epigenetic/inductive specification is less advanced and would benefit from studies of additional organisms. Freshwater planarians--widely known for their remarkable powers of regeneration--are well suited for studying the mechanisms by which germ cells can be induced. Classic experiments showed that planarians can regenerate germ cells from body fragments entirely lacking reproductive structures, suggesting that planarian germ cells could be specified by inductive signals. Furthermore, the availability of the genome sequence of the planarian Schmidtea mediterranea, coupled with the animal's susceptibility to systemic RNA interference (RNAi), facilitates functional genomic analyses of germ cell development and regeneration. Here, we describe recent progress in studies of planarian germ cells and frame some of the critical unresolved questions for future work.
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