Research Article

Comprehensive single-cell transcriptional profiling of a multicellular organism

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Science  18 Aug 2017:
Vol. 357, Issue 6352, pp. 661-667
DOI: 10.1126/science.aam8940

Sequencing each cell of the nematode

Single-cell sequencing is challenging owing to the limited biological material available in an individual cell and the high cost of sequencing across multiple cells. Cao et al. developed a two-step combinatorial barcoding method to profile both single-cell and single-nucleus transcriptomes without requiring physical isolation of each cell. The authors profiled almost 50,000 single cells from an individual Caenorhabditis elegans larval stage and were able to identify and recover information from different, even rare, cell types.

Science, this issue p. 661


To resolve cellular heterogeneity, we developed a combinatorial indexing strategy to profile the transcriptomes of single cells or nuclei, termed sci-RNA-seq (single-cell combinatorial indexing RNA sequencing). We applied sci-RNA-seq to profile nearly 50,000 cells from the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans at the L2 larval stage, which provided >50-fold “shotgun” cellular coverage of its somatic cell composition. From these data, we defined consensus expression profiles for 27 cell types and recovered rare neuronal cell types corresponding to as few as one or two cells in the L2 worm. We integrated these profiles with whole-animal chromatin immunoprecipitation sequencing data to deconvolve the cell type–specific effects of transcription factors. The data generated by sci-RNA-seq constitute a powerful resource for nematode biology and foreshadow similar atlases for other organisms.

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