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From DNA sequences to cell lineage trees: Helping cell biology climb the data-structures ladder

Professor Ehud Shapiro ( Weizmann Institute of Science )
For decades, computer science has been helping cell biology understand sequences, a.k.a. strings, made of symbols denoting nucleic acids (DNA, RNA) or amino acids (proteins). It’s time to move up the data-structures ladder, and help cell biology understand trees. The cell lineage tree of an organism has vertices denoting organism cells and directed edges denoting progeny relations among cells. Cell lineage trees harbor answers to the most fundamental open questions in human biology and medicine today, e.g. the origin of metastases in cancer and the rate and origin of renewal of organs such as the brain, heart, pancreas and ovaries; knowing the structure and dynamics of the human cell lineage tree in development, renewal, ageing and disease would provide answers to these questions. Fortunately, a human’s cell lineage tree is encoded via the differences among the genomic signatures of cells, which are unique with very high probability due to random mutations accumulated during cell replications. Fortunately, DNA sequencing technologies are advancing so rapidly that uncovering cellular genomic signatures efficiently is within reach.

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