The field of systems biology is in an early state of explosive growth as a rare influx of new advances, methods and technologies are combining to enable insights on some of the most compelling problems in human health and disease. One of the most exciting areas of research involves the recent derivation of human ES (embryonic stem) cells, which have the unique ability to grow and divide in an undifferentiated state in culture while maintaining the potential to generate any cell type in the body. These cells represent a rare opportunity for understanding human development and differentiation and hold great promise for regenerative therapeutics. A key to understanding the unique properties of ES cells rests in understanding how the underlying gene expression programmes are brought about by a combination of transcription factors and chromatin modifiers acting on the genome.

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