WASHINGTON, Dec. 20 (Xinhua) -- The single-cell analyses of gene activity through time were named on Thursday by the influential U.S. journal Science as 2018's Breakthrough of the Year.
The RNA sequencing technology is enabling researchers to determine, at the individual cell level, which genes are turned on and off as an early embryo develops.
"These technologies create some of the most extraordinary movies ever made, showing how a single cell grows into the intricate tissues and organs of a mature animal," said Tim Appenzeller, Science's news editor.
It could transform the basic biology and medical research landscape in the next ten years, according to Science.
The researchers isolate whole cells from organisms, sequence their genomic contents in what is known as single-cell RNA-seq, and tag early cells and their descendants in order to track how they split into multiple types during development.
What makes the three-step technique stronger is the use of molecular "trackers." The researchers have introduced fluorescent tags or the gene editing technique CRISPR, Science's 2015 Breakthrough of the Year, into early embryonic cells to mark them.
"In 2018 alone, studies detailed how a flatworm, a fish, a frog, and other organisms begin to make organs and appendages," said Science staff writer Elizabeth Pennisi.
Also, the researchers are applying the techniques to study how human cells mature over a lifetime, how tissues regenerate, and how cells change in diseases including cancer, according to Pennisi.
Jeremy Berg, Science's editor-in-chief, said the rich information about cell type inventories would lay the foundation for future studies of developmental processes, providing insights into the seemingly miraculous transformation of single cells into complex organisms.