• Until recently, trying to study key traits of cells from people and other animals often meant analyzing bulk samples of tissue, producing a mushed-up average of results from many cell types.
  • It was like trying to learn about a banana by studying a strawberry-blueberry-orange-banana smoothie.
  • In recent years, however, scientists have developed techniques that let them directly study the DNA codes, the activity of genes and other traits of individual cells.
  • The approach has become widely adopted, revealing details about the body that couldn’t be shown before.
  • And it has opened the door to pursuing an audacious goal- listing every cell type in the human body.
  • Single-cell analysis is crucial for a comprehensive understanding of our biology and health.
  • In fact, the journal Science named the techniques that allow single-cell tracking of gene activity over time in developing organisms and organs as its “breakthrough of the year” for 2018.
  • Its announcement declared, “The single-cell revolution is just starting.”
  • Even complicated animals like humans are really just massive communities of cells, each taking on a particular role and working with its neighbors.
  • An average adult human has 37 trillion or so of them, and they’re surprisingly varied- the inner lining of the colon, for example, has more than 50 kinds of cells.
  • It was just five years ago that methods for decoding of DNA and its chemical cousin RNA from individual cells became broadly accessible
  • New techniques are still being developed to pry more and more secrets out of individual cells.
  • The single-cell approach is leading to a slew of discoveries.
  • In just the past year, for example – Scientists closely tracked gene activity within fish and frog embryos, a step toward the longstanding goal of understanding how a single fertilized egg can produce an animal.
  • Meanwhile, the ability to produce single-cell results for hundreds of thousands of cells at a time has opened the door to a huge effort to catalog every cell type in the human body.
  • More than 1,000 scientists from 57 countries have joined the Human Cell Atlas Consortium, which estimates it will eventually profile at least 10 billion cells found in both healthy and sick people.
  • The gene map led to identifying thousands of genetic variants that raise or lower the risk of many diseases.