Gene of the Month - Nanog
And finally, it's our Gene of the Month, and this time it's Nanog, whose name is taken from Tir nan Og, the mythological Celtic name for "land of the forever-young". First discovered in 2003 in mouse embryonic stem cells - the immortal cells in the early embryo that can turn into any part of the body - the Nanog gene makes a protein that acts as a transcription factor, which switches on other genes. It was originally thought to enable stem cells to keep multiplying while maintaining this multitude of possible fates.
Now the picture is a bit more complicated, and it looks like Nanog plays a subtly different role by actively preventing the cells from heading down the road towards adopting specific fates. It also plays a key role in creating germ cells - the special cells that become eggs and sperm.