New e-journal features influential research from Green lab

Joint endeavor by HHMI, Max Planck and Wellcome supports open access

By Mark Shelton

UMass Medical School Communications

November 13, 2012

green-michaelAn exciting new journal that seeks to change how important biomedical discoveries are communicated will publish an influential new paper by Michael R. Green, MD, PhD, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, the Lambi and Sarah Adams Chair in Genetic Research,  professor of molecular medicine and biochemistry & molecular pharmacology and director of the Program in Gene Function and Expression, and colleagues. The journal, eLife, is described by its founders as a “unique collaboration between funders and practitioners of research to communicate influential discoveries in the life and biomedical sciences in the most effective way.”

Those founders are the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Max Planck Society and the Wellcome Trust. “Along with a growing number of public and private research funders worldwide, these three organizations recognize that the communication of research results is as fundamental a component of the research process as the experiments themselves,” the journal stated in its inaugural issue. “Disseminating new findings as widely and effectively as possible maximizes the value of research investments. [One] step in this initiative is to establish a new, open-access venue for the most important advances—from basic biological research through to applied, translational and clinical studies.”

Open access is a growing trend in scientific publication, generally defined as “free, unrestricted, online access to scientific and scholarly research.” (The UMMS Lamar Soutter Library recently hosted a series of activities in honor of Open Access Week; read more about the topic at http://libraryguides.umassmed.edu/OpenAccess.) The involvement of three of the most important research institutions in the world in the creation of a new open-access journal intended to streamline the communication of scientific findings is likely to be a milestone in life sciences research.

The new journal’s editors describe it as “a researcher-led digital publication for outstanding work, a platform to maximize the reach and influence of new findings and a showcase for new approaches for the presentation and assessment of research.”

Dr. Green’s paper in the current issue certainly fits that bill. The research paper, “Non-canonical TAF complexes regulate active promoters in human embryonic stem cells,” by Green and Lihua Julie Zhu, PhD, research associate professor of molecular medicine; and former postdoctoral fellow Glenn A Maston, PhD; technician Lynn Chamberlain; graduate student Ling Lin; and postdoc Minggang Fang, PhD, reports on the discovery that the basic transcription machinery used to regulate gene expression and self-renewal in human embryonic stem cells is comprised of only a handful of proteins normally found in other cells.

An explanatory summary accompanying the paper put it this way: “Embryonic stem cells have two characteristic properties: they are able to differentiate into any type of cell (a property known as “pluripotency”) and they are able to replicate themselves indefinitely (known as "self-renewal").

“Different genes code for the various proteins associated with these two properties, and understanding the behavior and properties of stem cells in detail is a major challenge in developmental biology. In human embryonic stem cells that have not yet differentiated, the genes that code for the transcription factors involved in the self-renewal process are expressed, whereas the genes associated with differentiation are not active. However, if the expression of the genes for self-renewal is reduced, the process of differentiation will begin, and the embryonic stem cells will be able to produce any one of the 200 or so different types of cell found in the human body.”

Gene transcription is a special focus of the Green laboratory, and the lab has a distinguished history of discoveries related to cell differentiation, including, importantly, the transcription machinery in cancer and its precursor cells. The eLife finding demonstrates how the transcription machinery that regulates gene expression and self-renewal in human embryonic stem cells is different from that found in other types of cells, including embryonic stem cells taken from mice. This unusual transcription machinery is, they argue, essential for the proper workings of human embryonic stem cells.

Read the full article: Non-canonical TAF complexes regulate active promoters in human embryonic stem cells