Special Issue "Weismann Barrier: What Is Left of It?"

A special issue of Journal of Developmental Biology (ISSN 2221-3759).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 September 2020).

Special Issue Editor

Dr. Chantal Wicky
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department of Biology, University of Fribourg, Ch. du Musée 10, 1700 Fribourg, Switzerland
Interests: development; transcription; epigenetics; chromatin; molecular genetics; genetics; regulation of gene expression; transcriptional regulation; C. elegans

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Auguste Weismann postulated more than 120 years ago that germ cells are set apart from somatic cells very early during development. He observed that under the effect of a germ plasm, some cells in the embryo become germ cells, while others gave rise to the soma. Once specified, germ cells would develop further in an autonomous manner. A. Weismann was the first to propose a model for cell specification. His views implied that later in the development as well as during the lifetime of an organism, changes that occurred in the somatic cells would never be passed on to the germ cells. This gave rise to the theoretical concept of the “Weismann barrier”. A. Weismann rejected Jean-Baptiste Lamarck’s ideas on the transgenerational inheritance of acquired traits.

Today, a growing number of studies indicates that this barrier can be overcome and that certain aspects of our life history can be passed on to the next generation. It is also known that many organisms do not have this barrier— in other words, this strict distinction between somatic cells and germ cells. Plants, tunicates, and planarians are some examples.

The purpose of this Special Issue of the Journal of Developmental Biology is to bring together research highlights, reviews or comments on recent findings about germ cell specification, the distinction between somatic and germ lineages, and the “Weismann barrier”.

Dr. Chantal Wicky
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

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Keywords

  • germ cell specification
  • germ cell fate maintenance
  • germ plasm
  • transgenerational epigenetic inheritance
  • weismann barrier

Published Papers (3 papers)

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Review

Open AccessReview
What Is Lost in the Weismann Barrier?
J. Dev. Biol. 2020, 8(4), 35; https://doi.org/10.3390/jdb8040035 - 16 Dec 2020
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 813
Abstract
The Weismann barrier has long been regarded as a basic tenet of biology. However, upon close examination of its historical origins and August Weismann’s own writings, questions arise as to whether such a status is warranted. As scientific research has advanced, the persistence [...] Read more.
The Weismann barrier has long been regarded as a basic tenet of biology. However, upon close examination of its historical origins and August Weismann’s own writings, questions arise as to whether such a status is warranted. As scientific research has advanced, the persistence of the concept of the barrier has left us with the same dichotomies Weismann contended with over 100 years ago: germ or soma, gene or environment, hard or soft inheritance. These dichotomies distract from the more important questions we need to address going forward. In this review, we will examine the theories that have shaped Weismann’s thinking, how the concept of the Weismann barrier emerged, and the limitations that it carries. We will contrast the principles underlying the barrier with recent and less recent findings in developmental biology and transgenerational epigenetic inheritance that have profoundly eroded the oppositional view of germline vs. soma. Discarding the barrier allows us to examine the interactive processes and their response to environmental context that generate germ cells in the first place, determine the entirety of what is inherited through them, and set the trajectory for the health status of the progeny they bear. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Weismann Barrier: What Is Left of It?)
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Open AccessReview
Environmentally Induced Epigenetic Transgenerational Inheritance and the Weismann Barrier: The Dawn of Neo-Lamarckian Theory
J. Dev. Biol. 2020, 8(4), 28; https://doi.org/10.3390/jdb8040028 - 04 Dec 2020
Viewed by 930
Abstract
For the past 120 years, the Weismann barrier and associated germ plasm theory of heredity have been a doctrine that has impacted evolutionary biology and our concepts of inheritance through the germline. Although August Weismann in his 1872 book was correct that the [...] Read more.
For the past 120 years, the Weismann barrier and associated germ plasm theory of heredity have been a doctrine that has impacted evolutionary biology and our concepts of inheritance through the germline. Although August Weismann in his 1872 book was correct that the sperm and egg were the only cells to transmit molecular information to the subsequent generation, the concept that somatic cells do not impact the germline (i.e., the Weismann barrier) is incorrect. However, the doctrine or dogma of the Weismann barrier still influences many scientific fields and topics. The discovery of epigenetics, and more recently environmentally induced epigenetic transgenerational inheritance of phenotypic variation and pathology, have had significant impacts on evolution theory and medicine today. Environmental epigenetics and the concept of epigenetic transgenerational inheritance refute aspects of the Weismann barrier and require a re-evaluation of both inheritance theory and evolution theory. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Weismann Barrier: What Is Left of It?)
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Open AccessFeature PaperReview
Conversion of Germ Cells to Somatic Cell Types in C. elegans
J. Dev. Biol. 2020, 8(4), 24; https://doi.org/10.3390/jdb8040024 - 07 Oct 2020
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 927
Abstract
The potential of a cell to produce all types of differentiated cells in an organism is termed totipotency. Totipotency is an essential property of germ cells, which constitute the germline and pass on the parental genetic material to the progeny. The potential of [...] Read more.
The potential of a cell to produce all types of differentiated cells in an organism is termed totipotency. Totipotency is an essential property of germ cells, which constitute the germline and pass on the parental genetic material to the progeny. The potential of germ cells to give rise to a whole organism has been the subject of intense research for decades and remains important in order to better understand the molecular mechanisms underlying totipotency. A better understanding of the principles of totipotency in germ cells could also help to generate this potential in somatic cell lineages. Strategies such as transcription factor-mediated reprogramming of differentiated cells to stem cell-like states could benefit from this knowledge. Ensuring pluripotency or even totipotency of reprogrammed stem cells are critical improvements for future regenerative medicine applications. The C. elegans germline provides a unique possibility to study molecular mechanisms that maintain totipotency and the germ cell fate with its unique property of giving rise to meiotic cells Studies that focused on these aspects led to the identification of prominent chromatin-repressing factors such as the C. elegans members of the Polycomb Repressive Complex 2 (PRC2). In this review, we summarize different factors that were recently identified, which use molecular mechanisms such as control of protein translation or chromatin repression to ensure maintenance of totipotency and the germline fate. Additionally, we focus on recently identified factors involved in preventing transcription-factor-mediated conversion of germ cells to somatic lineages. These so-called reprogramming barriers have been shown in some instances to be conserved with regard to their function as a cell fate safeguarding factor in mammals. Overall, continued studies assessing the different aspects of molecular pathways involved in maintaining the germ cell fate in C. elegans may provide more insight into cell fate safeguarding mechanisms also in other species. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Weismann Barrier: What Is Left of It?)
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