Synopsis

Identifying Cellular Concentrations via Fluctuations

Physics 6, s58
The composition of cells in tissues can be found using statistical fluctuations of cell types.
N. Riedel and J. Berg, Phys. Rev. E (2013)

Tissues are complex systems formed of a variety of different cells with different functions and genetically driven biochemistry. It is very rare that biological samples contain only one cell type. The question then arises, is it possible to measure samples and calculate exactly what cells are present, how many of each cell there are, and which genes they each individually express?

The answer is yes, but only averaged values of the different cell types in a given tissue can be obtained experimentally. Writing in Physical Review E, Nico Riedel and Johannes Berg from the University of Cologne, Germany, show that statistical mechanics can be used to solve this problem. The pair start with an artificial computational tissue from which they take a number of different samples. Due to fluctuations, the samples contain slightly different proportions of each cell type, which result in sample-to-sample variations of the gene expression levels. To reconstruct the composition of the tissue and gene expression of the component cells, Riedel and Berg designed a deconvolution algorithm, which exploits these sample-to-sample fluctuations.

The algorithm developed by Riedel and Berg can require as few as five different samples to accurately determine the tissue composition, making this an experimentally attractive method. However, the method has only been tested on artificial datasets, so it remains to be seen whether it can be accurately applied to real tissues. If so, this technique has wide-ranging medical applications and could be used to determine the proportion of healthy and abnormal cells in tissues and tumours, or the composition of cells in blood with only relatively small samples being needed. – Katherine Thomas


Subject Areas

Biological PhysicsStatistical Physics

Related Articles

Rainproof Water Striders
Fluid Dynamics

Rainproof Water Striders

Researchers reveal how water striders survive collisions with raindrops that are much larger than the insects—a result that could help in understanding how microplastics are transported in water. Read More »

Nonreciprocal Frustration Meets Geometrical Frustration
Nonlinear Dynamics

Nonreciprocal Frustration Meets Geometrical Frustration

New theoretical work establishes an analogy between systems that are dynamically frustrated, such as glasses, and thermodynamic systems whose members have conflicting goals, such as predator–prey ecosystems. Read More »

Reducing Persistence of Antibiotic Resistance
Biological Physics

Reducing Persistence of Antibiotic Resistance

A light-based technique can make bacteria more susceptible to antibiotics, and it is nearing clinical trials. Read More »

More Articles