Washington: Scientists claim to have found a control switch which regulates stem cell "pluripotency", the capacity of stem cells to develop into any type of cell in the human body.

An international team says the discovery reveals that pluripotency is regulated by a single event in a process called alternative splicing.

Alternative splicing allows one gene to generate many different genetic messages and protein products.

The scientists found that in genetic messages of a gene called FOXP1, the switch was active in embryonic stem cells but silent in "adult" cells -- those that had become the specialised cells that comprise organs and perform functions.

"It opens the field to the fact that alternative splicing plays a really important role in stem cell pluripotency," said Prof Benjamin Blencowe, principal investigator on the study and a Professor in the University of Toronto.

He added: "We're beginning to see an entirely new landscape of regulation, which will be crucial to our understanding of how to produce more effective pluripotent stem cells for therapeutic and research applications."

The findings have been published in the 'Cell' journal.

In stem cells, scientists have shown that a core set of proteins called transcription factors control pluripotency.

At the same time, the mechanism represses the genes required for differentiation -- the process whereby by a stem cell loses "stemness" and becomes a specific cell type that makes up an organ or performs a function.