In the study, the researchers captured images of more than 10,000 genes’ RNA within minutes of its birth in mouse stem cells and connective tissue cells. The resulting images revealed a few surprises about the nature of genome-wide activity, Cai said. The first was that the genes’ activity seemed to be synchronized in each cell – but not cell to cell – on a two-hour biological clock. The cells turn on and off in concert, they found. Cai and his team don’t understand why gene activity cycles like this, but they want to probe the mystery further. A similar two-hour biological clock acts in embryo development, Cai said, so one possibility is that same clock persists to adulthood but hadn’t previously been detected. The researchers also found that each chromosome takes up its own little ball of space inside the cell, with the active genes clustered around the outside of each chromosome. “It’s almost like a ball of yarn that’s packed in the middle and more fuzzy on the surface,” Cai said. The active genes tend to reside on the outside of chromosomes and appear more intertwined with neighboring chromosomes, they found. Next, the scientists want to apply the technique to cells in their native environs, both looking at how cells change during animal development and mapping the differences between human cells – and maybe eventually looking at how cells’ gene activity goes awry in different diseases. Getting seqFISH to work at the genome scale was a four-year road with a lot of bumps, Cai said. The flexible funding through The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group, which partially supported the technology development, was essential along the way, he said. “It took a lot of tries to get this to work. The funding through the Allen Discovery Center gave us the freedom to try a lot of things,” Cai said.