A new at­las of life

The Week Middle East - - News -

The hu­man body con­tains tril­lions of cells. They are the fun­da­men­tal units of life – yet sur­pris­ingly lit­tle is known about them: how many there are, how they age and de­velop, and how they dif­fer from one or­gan to an­other. But a new in­ter­na­tional ini­tia­tive, backed by the Well­come Trust in the UK and an­nounced last week, could change that. The Hu­man Cell At­las is an am­bi­tious pro­ject to map out and de­scribe all hu­man cells in a vast data­base. Made freely avail­able to sci­en­tists around the world, the at­las should help transform our un­der­stand­ing of hu­man dis­eases, lead­ing – it is hoped – to bet­ter di­ag­nos­tic tests and new ther­a­pies. The pro­ject will ex­ploit re­cent ad­vances in a tech­nique called sin­gle-cell ge­nomics, which en­ables in­di­vid­ual cells to be sep­a­rated and an­a­lysed, and is ex­pected to take a decade to com­plete.

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