Lineage tracing breakthroughs published in Science and Nature

November 21, 2016

Two groups of Allen Distinguished Investigators have recently published two landmark papers describing advances in tracing the lineage of cells and organisms.

In November 2016, Allen Distinguished Investigators Michael Elowitz and Long Cai  published a paper in Nature describing their novel method for tracing the lineage of cells. The technique, called MEMOIR--Memory by Engineered Mutagenesis with Optical In situ Readout--can uncover valuable information about cells by recording their life history, relationships with other cells, and key events that shaped them.


MEMOIR enables the histories of cells to be recorded in their genomes and then read out using microscopy. Here, MEMOIR cells were variably activated, as seen by the bright cyan nuclear fluorescence in some cells. The cells recorded information in response to this signal with the help of a DNA-editing system called CRISPR. This recorded information was then read out using a technique called seqFISH to visualize certain RNA transcripts in the cells (red dots). Image Credit: Elowitz and Cai Labs/Caltech


"Normally, we can only see the state of a cell at the moment we look at it," says Elowitz. "But what we really want to know is, what is the history of that cell? Who are its sisters and cousins? Who did it talk to and when?"

Earlier this year, Allen Distinguished Investigator Jay Shendure also published an advance in the field of lineage tracing in the journal Science, describing a method that for the first time allows researchers to trace the lineage of an entire organism. Shendure and his colleagues used their GESTALT (genome editing of synthetic target arrays for lineage tracing) method to track early zebrafish cells, and revealed that many tissues and organs in adult zebrafish form from just a few embryonic cells.

Read more about Elowitz' and Cai's the study on the Caltech website, and access the Nature paper online. Learn more about Shendure's study in Science Magazine, and access the Science paper online.