PerspectiveCell Biology

Whole cell maps chart a course for 21st-century cell biology

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Science  26 May 2017:
Vol. 356, Issue 6340, pp. 806-807
DOI: 10.1126/science.aan5955

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Cells are complex machines constructed from genetic blueprints generated by mutation and evolutionary forces, whose information is expressed under the influence of the cellular environment. Although each cell in any human has the same genes, complex regulatory networks determine which genes are expressed, creating the large variety of specialized cell types that constitute our bodies. To gain a deeper understanding of how cells function, we need to methodically study gene expression and cell structure in the context of the activities that drive cell behaviors. This will provide a framework with which to untangle and model the plethora of dynamic, interacting components that enable life. Recent initiatives, including one reported on page 820 of this issue by Thul et al. (1), and new methodologies suggest that now is the time to undertake an ambitious challenge: conjoin genomic, epigenetic, and structural studies to create a whole cell atlas representing the full variety of cell types and states in the human body.