The Secret Life of Cells

Cells can have nuclei, mitochondria and… family secrets?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

We each have a family tree of ancestors. Turns out, our cells also have a family tree! Doctors can use them to isolate diseased cells. But no one has created a cell family tree for an entire living creature. The chemical tags currently used to identify individual cells don’t pass down to future cells.

Scientists at Harvard University and the University of Washington have a solution. They used a genome editing system to add mutations in each cell in zebrafish embryos. The mutation is inserted in the cell’s DNA at specific sites. This creates a mutation barcode for each cell. Cells sharing the same DNA mutations come from the same origin.

Once the zebrafish embryos became adults, scientists collected cells from the fish. By comparing DNA barcodes, the scientists created a cell family tree for the zebrafish. According to the tree, most adult zebrafish cells came from only a few embryonic cells!

Like sands through the hourglass…these are the cells of our lives!