New technique improves single-cell transcriptomics

With the help of single-cell transcriptomic techniques, researchers can study an unlimited number of individual cells from living organisms one at a time and sequence the genetic material of each cell.

Genes in each cell type are triggered differently, giving rise to different types of cells, like muscle cells, skin cells, and neurons.

Scientists can use single-cell transcriptomics to detect the genes that are active in each type of cell and learn how such genetic variations alter the identity and function of cells. A careful analysis of this information can lead to the discovery of new types of cells, including formerly unknown stem cells, and assist scientists in tracing complex developmental processes.

Single-cell transcriptomics have revolutionized biology but are still an area in active development. Current methods use cell dissociation protocols with 'live' tissues, which put cells under stress, causing them to change, and limiting accurate investigations.”

Helena Garcia Castro, Study Co-Author and PhD Student, Department of Biological and Medical Science, Oxford Brookes University

To address this issue, the researchers created the ACetic acid MEthanol dissociation (ACME) system by leveraging a historical study and reviving a process from the 19th and 20th centuries. They discovered that with this technique, cells did not undergo dissociation as it halts their biological activity and “fixes” them from the start of the analysis.

The ACME approach subsequently enables the cells to be cryopreserved one or more times during the process, instantly following the dissociation process, when performing multi-step protocols, or in the field.

This means scientists can now exchange samples between labs, preserve the cell material and large sample sets can be frozen in order to be analyzed simultaneously, without destroying the integrity of the genetic material in the cell. We took the method from the old papers and repurposed it to make it work with current single-cell transcriptomic techniques. With our new method, we will now set out to characterize cell types in many animals.”

Dr Jordi Solana, Research Fellow, Oxford Brookes University

Thanks to the ACME technique, investigators can now team up with other laboratories and study a broader range of animal cells. Without the technology to dissociate and freeze live-cell tissues, this would not have been possible.

Source:
Journal reference:

García-Castro, H., et al. (2021) ACME dissociation: a versatile cell fixation-dissociation method for single-cell transcriptomics. Genome Biology. doi.org/10.1186/s13059-021-02302-5.

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