A new ‘cell map’ gives details of the early embryonic development of major cell types, British researchers reported this week.
Scientists at the University of Cambridge used single-cell technology to genetically profile more than 20,000 individual cells from the developing embryo, identifying an important new pathway involved in blood cell development, the leukotriene biosynthesis pathway.
Writing in the latest edition of Nature Cell Biology, the researchers say they hope that by capturing the patterns of genetic activity, it will help scientists to understand how cells grow and acquire their specialised functions.
The team studied the genetic activity of the cells in a mouse embryo at an early stage of development and identified a new pathway involved in blood cell development. Knowledge of this process could assist in the development of artificial techniques for generating blood supplies.
“Searching for known blood cell markers on our ‘cell map’ we were able to identify the leukotriene biosynthesis pathway as a new regulator of early blood development,” said Professor Bertie Göttgens, professor of molecular haematology, based at the Wellcome - MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute.
“The availability of suitable blood donor cells is a limiting factor for many patients requiring bone marrow transplantation or specialised blood transfusions.
“The identification of new pathways driving normal blood cell development has the potential to improve our ability to generate blood cells for these patients in the laboratory.”
The data also offers new drug development opportunities, said lead author Dr John Marioni, of Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute
“If we know which genes are active at key developmental stages then we can develop drugs to target the important pathways and alter cell function in diseases such as congenital heart defects, one of the commonest diseases that require surgery in new-born babies,” he said.
“We are making this comprehensive single cell map available to all researchers and hope it can be used to reveal previously unrecognised pathways contributing to mammalian development, whether that be lung, brain, liver or any other bodily tissue.”
Dr Mariana Delfino-Machin, of the Medical Research Council cancer programme, said: “A major challenge in cell biology is piecing together the precise steps required to give a cell its identity.
“Until now, experimental methods have lacked the precision needed to perceive the differences between cells that explain how they develop different identities, and how these differences might cause disease. The characterisation of 20,000 individual cells in a post-implantation stage mouse embryo is an impressive achievement, which provides a comprehensive overview of the processes to guide cells to their individual identities at that stage.”
Source: Ibarra-Sorra X, Jawaid W, Pijuan-Sala B et al. Defining murine organogenesis at single cell resolution reveals a new pathway regulating blood progenitor formation. Nature Cell Biology 8 January 2018; doi: 10.1038/s41556-017-0013-z
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