International Team Led by BGI Completes First Whole-Body Cell Atlas of a Non-Human Primate

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The research will provide insights into the development of potential treatments for neurological diseases and obesity, among other human conditions.

SHENZHEN, China, April 14, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — In a breakthrough that could lead to scientific advancement in the treatment of human diseases, researchers from BGI-Research, together with scientific research teams from China, Germany, Italy, Singapore, Spain, Sweden and the UK, today published the world’s first non-human primate whole-body cell transcriptomic atlas in the scientific journal Nature.

By using BGI’s independently-developed DNBelab C4 single-cell library platform, the researchers from BGI, Jilin University, Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health (Chinese Academy of Sciences), and 32 other international institutions completed the single-cell transcriptome of 45 tissues and organs from long-tailed macaque (cynomolgus) monkeys, obtaining a total of 1.14 million single-cell data and identifying 113 major cell types. The study, “Cell transcriptomic atlas of the non-human primate Macaca fascicularis“, obtained ethical clearance before it was conducted.

This study and other large scale primate research at the single-cell level are only possible through developments in advanced sequencing technology, an area where BGI is a leader. BGI’s proprietary technology enables extensive and multi-dimensional single-cell analysis with high sensitivity and accuracy at a low cost.

“Single-cell research is transforming our understanding of tissue and organ functions at a cellular level, which informs how diseases develop and how they can be treated,” said Dr. Liu Longqi from BGI-Research, one of the corresponding authors of the paper. “Having a whole-body organ single-cell map of the adult macaque will significantly improve the ability to pinpoint how to develop potential treatments for human diseases with greater precision.”

By mapping the macaque transcriptome at the single-cell level, scientists now have a database, or single-cell library, that can be used for

  • developing methods for human disease diagnosis and treatment,
  • assessment of clinical drug efficacy,
  • analysis of cell evolution among species, and
  • analysis of advanced cognitive functions of the brain.

“By understanding cell types and their characteristics, scientists will be able to predict the impact of disease treatments on specific cell structures and thus develop more targeted approaches for single-gene or complex genetic diseases,” said co-corresponding author Dr. Xu Xun, director of BGI-Research.

Single-cell mapping allowed the team to identify the cell types that may contribute to human disease or make individuals more susceptible to the disease. For example, in COVID-19, the biggest manifestation is pneumonia because SARS-CoV-2 infects a small group of cells in the lung. However, the single-cell mapping of macaque also identified certain cells in other tissues that can become infected. This can help doctors understand where to look for signs of COVID-19.

Single-cell mapping can also help identify which cells metabolize calories from fat, allowing researchers to comprehend underlying contributors to obesity. Likewise, this process could help identify which cells regulate neuronal circuits in the brain, leading to potential treatments for neurological diseases.  

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