The fates of the somatic cells that form the bulk of the mammalian body are thought to be largely determined by the time the cellular differentiation processes of development have been completed. Reprogramming in response to environmental stress has been observed in plants but not so far in mammalian cells. Now two manuscripts by Haruko Obokata and colleagues describe an unexpected reprogramming phenomenon, which the authors call stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP). In STAP, mouse somatic cells such as CD45+ haematopoietic cells are reprogrammed to pluripotency by transient exposure to low pH. Extensive analysis of the molecular features and developmental potential of STAP cells suggests that they represent a unique state of pluripotency — and provide an alternative source of pluripotent cells to the use of transcription factors, as has become routine for induced pluripotent stem cell production.
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