Researchers from BGI-Research, in collaboration with scientific research teams from China, Germany, Italy, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, published the world’s first non-human primate whole-body cell transcriptomic atlas in the scientific journal Nature this week, in a breakthrough that could lead to scientific advancement in the treatment of human diseases. The study will benefit researchers better understand how to develop treatments for neurological illnesses and obesity, among other human ailments.

Image Description: Generation of a cell atlas across 45 tissues of adult M. fascicularis monkey.
Image Source: Cell transcriptomic atlas of the non-human primate Macaca fascicularis.

The global team of researchers from BGI, Jilin University, Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health (Chinese Academy of Sciences), and 32 other international institutions used BGI’s independently developed DNBelab C4 single-cell library platform to complete the single-cell transcriptome of 45 tissues and organs from long-tailed macaque (cynomolgus) monkeys, resulting in 1.14 million single-cell data and the identification of 113 major cell types. The study “Cell transcriptomic atlas of the nonhuman primate Macaca fascicularis” received ethical approval before it was carried out. 

The dataset is a massive annotated resource for studying a phylogenetically similar species to humans. The researchers reconstructed the cell-cell interaction networks that drive Wnt signaling across the body, mapped the distribution of receptors and co-receptors for viruses that cause human infectious diseases, and intersected our data with human genetic disease orthologues to establish potential clinical associations to demonstrate the atlas’ utility.

This research and other large-scale primate research at the single-cell level are only possible thanks to advancements in sophisticated sequencing technology, which BGI leads in. BGI’s patented technology allows for broad and multi-dimensional single-cell analysis at a cheap cost, with great sensitivity and accuracy.

According to Dr. Liu Longqi from BGI-Research, one of the paper’s corresponding authors, the single-cell research is revolutionizing our understanding of tissue and organ function at the cellular level, allowing us to understand better how diseases emerge and how to treat them. The ability to pinpoint how to develop prospective remedies for human diseases with more precision will be significantly enhanced by having a whole-body organ single-cell map of the adult macaque.

By mapping the macaque transcriptome at the single-cell level scientists have now created a database or single-cell library, that may be helpful in: 

  • developing diagnostic and therapeutic approaches for human diseases,
  • assessment of clinical drug effectiveness, 
  • study of cell evolution among different species, and 
  • study of the brain’s advanced cognitive functions

As per the co-corresponding author Dr. Xu Xun, director of BGI-Research, scientists will be able to forecast the impact of illness therapies on specific cell structures by better knowing cell types and their properties, allowing them to develop more tailored ways for single-gene or complex genetic diseases.

The scientists used single-cell mapping to discover cell types that may contribute to human disease or make people more susceptible to it. Because SARS-CoV-2 attacks a limited group of cells in the lungs, pneumonia is the most common symptom of COVID-19. On the other hand, Macaque single-cell mapping revealed that specific cells in different tissues could become infected. This can assist doctors in figuring out where to look for COVID-19 symptoms.

Single-cell mapping can also help researchers figure out which cells process fat calories, allowing them to understand the causes of obesity better. Similarly, this method could aid in determining which cells regulate neural circuits in the brain, potentially leading to new treatments for neurological disorders.

According to another co-corresponding author Dr. Miguel A. Esteban from Jilin University and the Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health (Chinese Academy of Sciences), this research fills a void in the nonhuman primates’ single-cell map and provides a rich data resource that will be used for species evolution, brain science, drug evaluation and screening, and preclinical research studies in future.

Story Source: Han, L., Wei, X., Liu, C. et al. Cell transcriptomic atlas of the non-human primate Macaca fascicularisNature (2022).

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Dr. Tamanna Anwar is a Scientist and Co-founder of the Centre of Bioinformatics Research and Technology (CBIRT). She is a passionate bioinformatics scientist and a visionary entrepreneur. Dr. Tamanna has worked as a Young Scientist at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She has also worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada. She has several scientific research publications in high-impact research journals. Her latest endeavor is the development of a platform that acts as a one-stop solution for all bioinformatics related information as well as developing a bioinformatics news portal to report cutting-edge bioinformatics breakthroughs.


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