Researchers at the University of Dundee have identified a molecule that could play a key role in how cells develop into the building blocks of life.
Developmental biologists try to understand how cells that are at first identical differentiate into the specialised cell types that make up tissues and organs.
Now researchers at the College of Life Sciences in Dundee, led by Professor Pauline Schaap, have identified a molecule called cyclic-di-GMP as being the 'signal' which can induce differentiation into stalk cells.
The Schaap laboratory studies how cells can differentiate.
The new research is published in the journal Nature.
Professor Schaap said: "Our work presents the opportunity to fully understand how cells learned to become different from each other in early multicellular organisms.
"These findings are also remarkable because cyclic-di-GMP was previously only found in bacteria, where it causes bacteria to lose motility and transform into large sticky colonies, known as biofilms. The fact that an organism, which is very far removed from bacteria, uses the same mechanism is very interesting and suggests that the processes which cause cell differentiation in eukaryotes, like ourselves, may have very deep evolutionary origins."