The role of single-cell genomics in human genetics

Single-cell sequencing is a powerful approach that can detect genetic alterations and their phenotypic consequences in the context of human development, with cellular resolution. Humans start out as single-cell zygotes and undergo fission and differentiation to develop into multicellular organisms. Before fertilisation and during development, the cellular genome acquires hundreds of mutations that propagate down the cell lineage. Whether germline or somatic in nature, some of these mutations may have significant genotypic impact and lead to diseased cellular phenotypes, either systemically or confined to a tissue. Single-cell sequencing enables the detection and monitoring of the genotype and the consequent molecular phenotypes at a cellular resolution. It offers powerful tools to compare the cellular lineage between 'normal' and 'diseased' conditions and to establish genotype-phenotype relationships. By preserving cellular heterogeneity, single-cell sequencing, unlike bulk-sequencing, allows the detection of even small, diseased subpopulations of cells within an otherwise normal tissue. Indeed, the characterisation of biopsies with cellular resolution can provide a mechanistic view of the disease. While single-cell approaches are currently used mainly in basic research, it can be expected that applications of these technologies in the clinic may aid the detection, diagnosis and eventually the treatment of rare genetic diseases as well as cancer. This review article provides an overview of the single-cell sequencing technologies in the context of human genetics, with an aim to empower clinicians to understand and interpret the single-cell sequencing data and analyses. We discuss the state-of-the-art experimental and analytical workflows and highlight current challenges/limitations.


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