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Reconstructing life at its beginning, cell by cell



After 13 rapid divisions a fertilized fly egg consists of about 6,000 cells. They all look alike under the microscope. However, each cell of a Drosophila melanogaster embryo already knows by then whether it is destined to become a neuron or a muscle cell—or part of the gut, the head, or the tail. Now, Nikolaus Rajewsky’s and Robert Zinzen’s teams at the Berlin Institute of Medical Systems Biology (BIMSB) of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association (MDC) have analyzed the unique gene expression profiles of thousands of single cells and reassembled the embryo from these data using a new spatial mapping algorithm. The result is a virtual fly embryo showing exactly which genes are active where at this point in time. “It is basically a transcriptomic blueprint of early development,” says Robert Zinzen, head of the Systems Biology of Neural Tissue Differentiation Lab. Their paper appears as a First Release in the online issue of Science. #amazing #positivenews

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