STANFORD, Calif. Consider the marvel of the embryo. It begins as a glob of identical cells that change shape and function as they multiply to become the cells of our lungs, muscles, nerves and all the other specialized tissues of the body.
Now, in a feat of reverse tissue engineering, Stanford University researchers have begun to unravel the complex genetic coding that allows embryonic cells to proliferate and transform into all of the specialized cells that perform myriad biological tasks.
A team of interdisciplinary researchers took lung cells from the embryos of mice, choosing samples at different points in the development cycle. Using the new technique of single-cell genomic analysis, they recorded what genes were active in each cell at each point. Though they studied lung cells, their technique is applicable to any type of cell.
"This lays out a playbook for how to do reverse tissue engineering," said Stephen Quake, PhD, the Lee Otterson Professor in the School of Engineering and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.
The researchers' findings are described in a paper published online April 13 in Nature. Quake, who also is a professor of bioengineering and of applied physics, is the senior author. The lead authors are postdoctoral scholars Barbara Treutlein, PhD, and Doug Brownfield, PhD.
The researchers used the reverse-engineering technique to study the cells in the alveoli, the small, balloon-like structures at the tips of the airways in the lungs. The alveoli serve as docking stations where blood vessels receive oxygen and deliver carbon dioxide.
Treutlein and Brownfield isolated 198 lung cells from mouse embryos at three stages of gestation: 14.5 days, 16.5 days and 18.5 days (mice are usually born at 20 days). They also took some lung cells from adult mice.
They used standard enzymatic techniques to dissolve the proteins that hold the lung cells together in tissue form, th
|Contact: Tom Abate|
Stanford University Medical Center