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Single-cell variability in multicellular organisms

A newly published paper has extended studies of noisy gene expression to multicellular organisms.

While gene expression noise in single-celled organisms is well-understood, it is less so in the context of tissues. Dr Ramon Grima of SynthSys and his PhD student, Stephen Smith, use modelling to show that coupling between cells in tissues can increase or decrease cell-to-cell variability depending on the type of gene regulatory networks in each cell. The modelling predictions are verified using experimental data from mammalian and plant tissues.

The results suggest that cell-cell coupling may be one of several noise-control strategies employed by multicellular organisms, and highlight the need for a deeper understanding of multicellular behaviour.


Smith S., and Grima R., 2018. Single-cell variability in multicellular organisms. Nature Communications 9, 345 (2018) PDF
DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-02710-x
IMAGE Differences between a population of isolated cells and a tissue of cells.
a A population of isolated cells: each cell contains an identical genetic network.
b A tissue of cells: each cell contains an identical genetic network and some molecules can be transported between neighbouring cells (dotted lines)