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Mapping the fate of individual cells during early embryo development

17 January 2022

Atlas of Fate

We all start as one single cell, and yet become a molecular masterpiece of trillions. But how? Throughout development, each cell makes a series of decisions that ultimately determines its identity. This complex process involves different signals from the cell’s environment, changes to genes that are switched on and more to give rise to all our major organs and body parts. Studying which cells make what decisions has been challenging. The only way is to dissect the embryo, but by doing that, any information about a cell’s location is lost – until now. Scientists have developed a map of the individual cells that make up an early embryo. This video shows how clusters of cell types (shown in various colours) map to specific locations. This groundbreaking tool will allow researchers to pinpoint the molecular events that lead to organ development, which could help generate cell types in a dish for regenerative medicine.

Written by Sophie Arthur

  • Video from work by T. Lohoff and S. Ghazanfar, and colleagues
  • Wellcome-Medical Research Council Cambridge Stem Cell Institute; CRUK Cambridge Institute, University of Cambridge; Epigenetics Programme, Babraham Institute, Cambridge, UK
  • Video copyright held by the original authors
  • Research published in Nature Biotechnology, September 2021

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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