A new atlas of life
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.