A long-standing problem in developmental biology has been to understand how the embryonic germ layers gain the competence to differentiate into distinct cell types. Genetic studies have shown that members of the GATA and HNF3/fork head transcription factor families are essential for the formation and differentiation of gut endoderm tissues in worms, flies, and mammals. Recent in vivo footprinting studies have shown that GATA and HNF3 binding sites in chromatin are occupied on a silent gene in endoderm that has the potential to be activated solely in that germ layer. These and other data indicate that these evolutionarily conserved factors help impart the competence of a gene to be activated in development, a phenomenon called genetic potentiation. The mechanistic implications of genetic potentiation and its general significance are discussed.
Copyright 1999 Academic Press.