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In a paper in Science this week, Penn researchers report the first detailed molecular characterization of how every cell changes during animal embryonic development. The work, led by the laboratories of Perelman School of Medicine's John I. Murray, the School of Arts and Sciences' Junhyong Kim, and Robert Waterston of the University of Washington (UW), used the latest technology in the emergent field of single cell biology to profile more than 80,000 cells in the embryo of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans.
"Over the past few years, new single cell genomics methods have revolutionized the study of animal development," says Murray. "Our study takes advantage of the fact that the C. elegans embryo has a very small number of cells produced by a known and completely reproducible pattern of cell divisions. Using single cell genomics methods, we were able to identify over 87 percent of embryonic cells from gastrulation (when there are about 50 cells present) through the end of embryogenesis."
C - Animal - Cells - Body - Organism
C. elegans is an animal that hatches with only 558 cells in its body. In a multicellular organism, every cell is derived by cell division from a single fertilized egg, resulting in a "cell lineage tree" that shows the division history of every cell, and describes their relationships to each other, akin to a genealogy. The Nobel prize winning work of Sydney Brenner, H. Robert Horvitz, and John Sulston worked out the cell lineage tree of C. elegans more than 40 years ago, and showed that every C. elegans animal develops through identical patterns of cell division.
To further elucidate the process of development, the Penn and UW teams characterized what happens at the molecular level by measuring the transcriptome—all the...
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