SciShots: A cell’s fate

Synthetic biology is helping scientists understand development

February 11, 2022

NoneHow does a single cell choose its life’s path? Our complicated, coordinated bodies start out as a single cell, giving rise to all our wildly different cell types — muscle cells, neurons, skin cells. Scientists still don’t understand how those cell-fate decisions happen, and how one original cell (known as a stem cell) can hold the potential for so many different kinds of cells all at once.


A new system called MultiFate that was devised by researchers at Caltech, led by Allen Discovery Center for Cell Lineage Tracing principal investigator Michael Elowitz, Ph.D., recapitulates some of that cell-fate complexity through synthetic biology. The scientists engineered cells in the lab to carry a synthetic circuit that switches through combinations of three different proteins that regulate how genes are switched on or off, resulting in seven different “states.” In this movie made by Caltech doctoral student Ronghui Zhu, each cellular state is represented by a different color — as cells divide, the state is stably passed on to future generations. Rachel Tompa, Ph.D.


Microscopic viewpoints, computer-generated models, intricate tracings and more — see a new side of science with SciShots.

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