Researchers interested in gene expression studies adopt one of two approaches. They can either examine the expression of a given gene in a population of cells in aggregate, or they can study the gene on a cell-by-cell basis in situ. The advantage of the former approach is its simplicity: It is generally easy to prepare RNA or protein from a given tissue sample and to probe it for the gene or protein of interest. But there are several disadvantages associated with the population approach. First of all, it is difficult, if not impossible, to obtain spatial information--that is, determining in which cells, and where within the cell, the gene is being expressed. Population studies are complicated if the cell population of interest is a minority of the total cell population, a situation that would lead to problematic signal-to-noise ratios. Finally, population studies tend to require relatively large numbers of cells....
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