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Chemical approaches in developmental biology

The development of model organisms such as zebrafish and worms progresses from a single cell to tissues and organs. In this issue, a collection of articles highlights advances and opportunities at the intersection of developmental and chemical biology.

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Editorial

Chemical approaches in developmental biology

Shaping embryonic development p559

doi:10.1038/nchembio.2403

The growing intersection between chemical tools and principles and developmental biology is providing new insights into the molecular-level details of developmental processes.


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Commentaries

Chemical approaches in developmental biology

Small-molecule phenotypic screening with stem cells pp560 - 563

Andrei Ursu, Hans R Schöler & Herbert Waldmann

doi:10.1038/nchembio.2383

To fully leverage the potential of human-induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs), improved and standardized reprogramming methods and large-scale collections of hiPSC lines are needed, and the stem cell community must embrace chemical biology methodology for target identification and validation.


Chemical approaches in developmental biology

Unraveling cell-to-cell signaling networks with chemical biology pp564 - 568

Zev J Gartner, Jennifer A Prescher & Luke D Lavis

doi:10.1038/nchembio.2391

Cell-to-cell signaling networks, although poorly understood, guide tissue development, regulate tissue function and may become dysregulated in disease. Chemical biologists can develop the next generation of tools to untangle these complex and dynamic networks of interacting cells.


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Perspectives

Chemical approaches in developmental biology

Small-molecule pheromones and hormones controlling nematode development pp577 - 586

Rebecca A Butcher

doi:10.1038/nchembio.2356

The existence of small-molecule signals that influence development in Caenorhabditis elegans has been known for several decades, but only in recent years have the chemical structures of several of these signals been established. The identification of these signals has enabled connections to be made between these small molecules and fundamental signaling pathways in C. elegans that influence not only development but also metabolism, fertility, and lifespan. Spurred by these important discoveries and aided by recent advances in comparative metabolomics and NMR spectroscopy, the field of nematode chemistry has the potential to expand dramatically in the coming years. This Perspective will focus on small-molecule pheromones and hormones that influence developmental events in the nematode life cycle (ascarosides, dafachronic acids, and nemamides), will cover more recent work regarding the biosynthesis of these signals, and will explore how the discovery of these signals is transforming our understanding of nematode development and physiology.


Chemical approaches in developmental biology

Illuminating developmental biology through photochemistry pp587 - 598

Lukasz Kowalik & James K Chen

doi:10.1038/nchembio.2369

The existence of small-molecule signals that influence development in Caenorhabditis elegans has been known for several decades, but only in recent years have the chemical structures of several of these signals been established. The identification of these signals has enabled connections to be made between these small molecules and fundamental signaling pathways in C. elegans that influence not only development but also metabolism, fertility, and lifespan. Spurred by these important discoveries and aided by recent advances in comparative metabolomics and NMR spectroscopy, the field of nematode chemistry has the potential to expand dramatically in the coming years. This Perspective will focus on small-molecule pheromones and hormones that influence developmental events in the nematode life cycle (ascarosides, dafachronic acids, and nemamides), will cover more recent work regarding the biosynthesis of these signals, and will explore how the discovery of these signals is transforming our understanding of nematode development and physiology.


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Review

Chemical approaches in developmental biology

The perception of strigolactones in vascular plants pp599 - 606

Shelley Lumba, Duncan Holbrook-Smith & Peter McCourt

doi:10.1038/nchembio.2340

Small-molecule hormones play central roles in plant development, ranging from cellular differentiation and organ formation to developmental response instruction in changing environments. A recently discovered collection of related small molecules collectively called strigolactones are of particular interest, as these hormones also function as ecological communicators between plants and fungi and between parasitic plants and their hosts. Advances from model plant systems have begun to unravel how, as a hormone, strigolactone is perceived and transduced. In this Review, we summarize this information and examine how understanding strigolactone hormone signaling is leading to insights into parasitic plant infections. We specifically focus on how the development of chemical probes can be used in combination with model plant systems to dissect strigolactone's perception in the parasitic plant Striga hermonthica. This information is particularly relevant since Striga is considered one of the largest impediments to food security in sub-Saharan Africa.


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