What has made vertebrates so successful has been the evolution of their superior sensory organs, a more sophisticated organization of the brain, and—eventually—toothed powerful jaws, which gradually supported an ecological shift from passive filter feeding to a more active predatory lifestyle. Building this “new head” in vertebrate embryos relies on an elite group of cells called the neural crest (1). Indeed, the English developmental biologist Peter Thorogood famously recounted that as a young scientist he was told by a senior professor (in an authoritative tone), “The only interesting thing about vertebrates is the neural crest” (2). On page 1332 of this issue, Buitrago-Delgado et al. (3) provide further support for this bold statement in demonstrating that neural crest cells uniquely retain pluripotent stem cell programming until later in development than the three classic germ layers.
- Neural Crest