Looking for Loners

A new algorithm opens doors for detecting rare cell types in mRNA sequencing.

Karen Zusi
Dec 1, 2015

ODDBALLS: Intestinal epithelium from a mouse with a single rare enteroendocrine cell positive for the Reg4 marker (bright pink)ANNA LYUBIMOVA


The paper
D. Grün et al., “Single-cell messenger RNA sequencing reveals rare intestinal cell types,” Nature, 525:251-55, 2015.

The advent of mRNA sequencing for individual cells has given scientists unprecedented insight into the diversity of cell populations once thought to be uniform. But finding an analysis sensitive enough to pick up rare cell types within a tissue is a challenge, says Dominic Grün, a quantitative biologist now at the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology
and Epigenetics in Germany.

An intestinal model
To develop a technique that could pinpoint uncommon cells, Grün started with sequencing the cells in intestinal organoids and creating clusters of similar transcriptome profiles. Knowing how much gene-expression variability he could expect in a group of homogeneous cells,...