This Cell Atlas is the “real Google Maps of the human body”

This gigantic compendium, describing the myriad of cell types in the human body, is the first concrete manifestation of a work that seeks to map our organism in length, width, and width.

As part of a massive collaborative effort I spotted ScienceAlert, A group of researchers has compiled a particularly impressive summary documenting an incredible number of human cell types. with moreOne million cell types mapped to 33 membersit’s about The most comprehensive catalog of human cells to date.

Mapping efforts are carried out in parallel by many teams of researchers working in very different disciplines. Some dwell on protein diversity, or divide by genome; Those who produced this atlas are particularly interested in the basic unit of life, the cell.

It is a general term that can refer to a lot of very different things, both morphologically and functionally. All tissues in our bodies are made up of several specific cell groups; Each of these species has its own internal mechanism that directly determines its role in the tissue.

Google Maps of the human body

Red blood cells, for example, specialize in transporting oxygen throughout the body. Neurons, for their part, are primed to transmit electrical signals. And so on; Other than these well-known examples, there are tens of thousands of distinct types of cells, and each plays its own role.

Documenting all of these cell types presents a major challenge in physiology, and thus in clinical medicine; It is a matter of better understanding the diversity of living things in order to better understand their dynamics on a global scale. To understand the structure of this system and the way in which different cells interact, we must really start by knowing where they “live” in an organism.

This is exactly what a coorte to more than 2,300 researchers I tried to do with this business that lasted several years. “We can see it as Google Maps of the human body‘,” summarizes Sarah Tishman, a geneticist at the Wellcome Sanger Institute and rapporteur of this work.It’s really like a map of individual cells that shows where each type of cell is in the target tissue. “

This is a particularly ambitious task. Although researchers have been characterizing cell types for decades, it is simply unreasonable to identify them all manually under a microscope. To prepare this catalog, the researchers thus relied on a technology that has already revolutionized the foundations of biotechnologies: machine learning.

Millions of needles, but it’s a huge haystack

So far, studies at the individual cell level have focused on genetic analysis of one tissue type at a time to map the types of cells present there. An approach that is not only slow, but also complex to use, as it is still necessary to ensure the overall consistency of each element afterwards.

As part of this work, the researchers developed several new analytical tools that allowed them to perform system-wide analyzes. Thus they were able to accurately check which cells were expressing the genes, and under what conditions.

An extract from the Tabula Sapiens Project, a component of the extensive human cell atlas. © Stephen R Quake – Tabula Sabines

Remember that technically every cell in the body contains an exact replica (nearly) of our genome. On the other hand, it doesn’t use all of that. For each type of cell, only a part will be transcribed into proteins involved in biological activity: we are talking about the transcriptome.

People often think that the genome is the building block of an organism, but that’s not really true”Nuance Steve Quake, a bioengineer at Stanford University. “A genome is more than a list of parts, and every cell uses a different set of parts‘, he adds.

To characterize all these types of cells, researchers have thus chosen to focus on their transcription; The approach is made possible by the rapid advancement of associated technologies in recent years. Then, machine learning-based data processing systems helped them sort to produce their atlas.

doctor doctor doctor
Clinical medicine is already benefiting from this work, and that’s just the beginning. © Alexandre Podvalny – Pexels

Essential Database for Tomorrow’s Medicine

It has already enabled significant advances in biology. During this work, the researchers clearly identified new types of cells that had not been documented before. But they also got their hands on new patterns of cellular communication, and even identified characteristics that could play a major role in the development of some diseases.

So there is reason to be excited about the rest of the operations. Because this first release of the Human Cell Atlas is only the beginning. Ultimately, the goal, of course, is to arrive at a completely comprehensive catalog of human cells. A goal that is still fictional today, but it is getting closer every day.

“Human Cell Atlas” is committed to incorporating all the differences in human cells, and is not intended to take a narrow view.And this is good news. Because each time this catalog is expanded, it will take research in basic biology a step further.

Thus, it will also allow significant clinical advances to be made in all disciplines related to the life sciences. A perspective that already salivates pathologists, physiologists, geneticists, but also all other professionals who work directly or indirectly on human cells.

The studies that made it possible to construct this atlas are available here, here, here, and here.

Leave a Comment