If a scientist wants to determine the effects of a genetic mutation on a particular cell type, the general procedure is to introduce the mutation into a population of those cells and assay the cells en masse. However, because each cell contains its own mutated genome, it could essentially be thought of as an individual experiment. Thus if the scientist could isolate and assess individual cells, they’d obtain many thousands of data points instead of just one. To this end, in recent years, a number of 'single-cell' techniques have been developed that can extract information from the negligible amounts of material in each cell. And to complement these techniques, researchers have also developed microfluidic devices that isolate single cells into microdroplets (pictured). Acting like microscopic test-tubes, these reagent-filled droplets effectively turn a population of cells into thousands of parallel experiments, both increasing data yield and saving time and money.
Written by Ruth Williams
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