A Computer Program that Distinguishes Human Cells

Although each of the cells in human body carries the same DNA sequence, there are many varieties of cell types and functions. The differences stem from how the sequence of the DNA is interpreted.
Recent developments in single-cell sequencing are allowing researchers to measure which of 20,000 genes in human is active in each cell. With more than 30 trillion cells in our body, the methods offer an unparalleled level of detail that is transforming research in medicine and biology. But when this technique is applied to numerous cells from various tissues, it turns out to be increasingly problematic to process the huge amounts of data and perceive meaningful patterns.
Stein Aerts, a computational biologist and Professor at the University of Leuven, and his team joined forces with bioengineers, IT specialists, and mathematicians to rise to the challenge. They developed a computer program that detects different types of cells based on their patterns of gene expression. Referred to as SCENIC, the program identifies different cell types quickly and accurately.
The researchers’ technique could help develop a cell “atlas” in the human body. The result is expected to become an invaluable source of information for biology and medicine.


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