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Single cell to embryo: captured in unprecedented detail

Shaoni Bhattacharya

Progress Educational Trust

01 May 2018

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[BioNews, London]

Scientists have unveiled a detailed roadmap of how an embryo forms from a single cell over 24 hours.

Three papers published in Science detail the fate of every single cell produced to form an embryo in zebrafish and Xenopus (the western claw-toed frog).

'Understanding how an organism is made requires knowing which genes are turned on or off as cells make fate decisions, not just the static sequence of a genome,' said study co-author Dr Sean Megason at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. 'This is the first technological approach that has allowed us to systematically and quantitatively address this question.'

The scientists used a technique called single-cell RNA sequencing to reveal which genes were being expressed, in which cells, at different times. The researchers profiled more than 200,000 cells at multiple time points for both species over the course of the embryo's first day.

They also developed artificial DNA barcodes to tag each cell and so they could track the material of each cell individually.

As an embryo forms, individual cells will commit to becoming different cell types. 'In one snapshot, we can see the entire story of development unfolding,' Dr Allon Klein, also at Harvard Medical School, told STAT News. 'By capturing cells over the first 24 hours of life, we could look at the entire process by which cells were making decisions about the cell types they were going to become.'

A surprise finding was that some cell types emerged much earlier than previously thought.

The hope is that better understanding the process of cells differentiating may help in regenerative medicine, with the coaxing of stem cells into different tissue types. 'With these datasets, if someone wants to make a specific cell type, they now have the recipe for the steps that those cells took as they formed in the embryo,' said Klein.

Klein also told STAT: 'We could also use it to look at the dynamic of diseases such as developmental disorders or tumour development.'


From one, many
EurekAlert |  26 April 2018
Incredibly detailed embryo maps chart each cell’s developmental fate
Nature News |  26 April 2018
Scientists capture how a single cell develops into an embryo
STAT News |  26 April 2018
Single-cell mapping of gene expression landscapes and lineage in the zebrafish embryo
Science |  26 April 2018
Single-cell reconstruction of developmental trajectories during zebrafish embryogenesis
Science |  26 April 2018
The dynamics of gene expression in vertebrate embryogenesis at single-cell resolution
Science |  26 April 2018

© Copyright Progress Educational Trust

Reproduced with permission from BioNews, an email and online sources of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and genetics.

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Date Added: 01 May 2018   Date Updated: 01 May 2018
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