Our research is focused on the genetics of human embryo and germ cell (oocyte and sperm) development. We identified and characterized novel genes that are required for formation and/or differentiation of premeiotic germ cells. Some of the proteins encoded by these genes, such as DAZL (Deleted in AZoospermia-Like), PUMILIO, and NANOS, are homologs of germ plasm components in lower organisms that are required for germ cell formation and differentiation in males and females.
Subsequently, our analysis of these genes led us to human embryonic stem cell biology as we tracked gene function to the birth of germ cells and sought a developmental system to manipulate genes against a human genome background. We explored whether human embryonic stem cells might provide a human-genome based system with which to manipulate the genetics and epigenetics of human germ cell development.
These studies are valuable to the understanding of human reproductive failure, one of the most common health problems in men and women and a common cause of birth defects. In addition, these studies may allow generation of novel human embryonic stem cell lines through somatic cell nuclear transfer. The ability to produce germ cells in vitro would circumvent the limited availability and potentially allow production of diverse stem cells in vitro for therapeutic uses.
NIH infomation about stem cells