Synopsis: Identifying Cellular Concentrations via Fluctuations

The composition of cells in tissues can be found using statistical fluctuations of cell types.
Synopsis figure
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


Features

More Features »

Announcements

More Announcements »

Subject Areas

Biological PhysicsStatistical Physics

Previous Synopsis

Fluid Dynamics

Stripping Away Confusion

Read More »

Next Synopsis

Quantum Physics

Quantum-ness Put on the Scale

Read More »

Related Articles

Synopsis: Optimum Wings for Flying Fruits
Biological Physics

Synopsis: Optimum Wings for Flying Fruits

Whirling fruits have evolved wing-like structures that are optimized to generate maximum lift, according to a new study. Read More »

Synopsis: Mapping a Tumor’s Mechanical Properties with Light
Biological Physics

Synopsis: Mapping a Tumor’s Mechanical Properties with Light

A new experiment uses a light probe to measure the mechanical response of a tumor, which provides information about its anatomy and the efficacy of therapeutic agents. Read More »

Viewpoint: Low Efficiency Spotted in a Molecular Motor
Biological Physics

Viewpoint: Low Efficiency Spotted in a Molecular Motor

A detailed study of kinesin—a molecular motor responsible for transporting cellular cargo—shows that it loses 80% of input energy to heat. Read More »

More Articles