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As a single cell divides, it can
produce diverse populations of
cells with different functions
and gene profiles. But how a
single cell is able to generate
such diversity remains unknown.
Now, researchers at MIT have
developed a new technique that
allows them to not only trace
detailed family histories for
several generations of cells
descended from one single
"ancestor" cell but also link
this lineage information with
each cell's genetic profile.
Single-cell lineage and gene
expression information is
important in various biological
contexts such as how stem cells
or immune cells mature and
could even shed light on how
cancer develops.
To track the family history
for a single cell, researchers
engineered a microfluidic device
that first traps an individual
cell and then all of its
descendants. The device has
several connected channels,
each of which has a trapping
pocket used to capture single
cells in precise locations.
After the initial cell grows and
divides, its progeny float
downstream and are captured in
the next available trap. Through
this process of dividing and
trapping, researchers were able
to track where single cells
traveled after division and
were able to determine lineage
relationships such as sister
cells, cousin cells and so on,
for multiple generations.
By reversing the flow direction,
the researchers were able to
remove cells, one at a time,
from the device, allowing them
to conduct single-cell RNA
sequencing. In the end, this
process allows researchers to
link genetic profile collected
with single-cell RNA sequencing
with the lineage information
previously collected.
They hope to use this technique
to learn more about immune cell
development and cancer cell growth.