This accomplishment started with a challenge to common wisdom, which says that every cell in an organism carries an exact duplicate of its genome. Although mistakes in copying, which are passed on to the next generation of cells as mutations, occur when cells divide, such tiny flaws in the genome are thought to be trivial and mainly irrelevant. But research students Dan Frumkin and Adam Wasserstrom of the Institute's Biological Chemistry Department, working under the guidance of Prof. Ehud Shapiro of the Biological Chemistry and Computer Science and Applied Mathematics Departments, raised a new possibility: though biologically insignificant, the accumulated mutations might hold a record of the history of cell divisions. These findings were published today in PLoS Computational Biology.
Together with Prof. Uriel Feige of the Computer Science and Applied Mathematics Department and research student Shai Kaplan, they proved that these mutations can be treated as information and used to trace lineage on a large scale, and then applied the theory to extracting data and drafting lineage trees for living cells.
Methods employed until now for charting cell lineage have relied on direct observation of developing embryos. This method worked well enough for the tiny, transparent worm, C. elegans, which has a total of about 1,000 cells, but for humans, with 100 trillion cells, or even newborn mice or human embryos at one month, each of which has one billion cells after some 40 rounds of cel
Contact: Elizabeth McCrocklin
American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science