Single-Cell Epigenomics: Changes to Genomes without DNA Alterations

Single-Cell Epigenomics: Changes to Genomes without DNA Alterations

Humans have similar DNA sequences. Any two humans can share 99% of the same genome sequence. Nonetheless, the 1% difference contributes a large portion of what makes a human unique. Moreover, researchers have discovered differences independent of a person’s genome sequence that affect their traits. These differences are known as epigenetics. Here, diverse human cell types modify their DNA using molecular groups. 

These changes are not spurious. Aberrant gene modifications have been linked with cardiovascular disease and cancer. Tools that profile these modifications can therefore spur new approaches to treat disease beyond a person’s genome.

The repertoire of alterations also varies between individual cells. Massive heterogeneity in single-cell profiles exists. These changes affect how stem cells develop and how tumors proliferate. Discovering these minute differences encouraged researchers to extend existing epigenetics protocols to profile epigenomes with single-cell resolution. The growing amount of PubMed publications on epigenetics further reflects this growing trend.

In this article, we will discuss epigenetics, their role in health and disease, and their characterization at the single-cell level.

What Is Epigenetics?

A mammalian cell’s genome contains strings of nucleotides that are wound into proteins called histones. The resulting structure, chromatin, packages the DNA inside nuclei. The repeating chromatin units are then known as the nucleosome. The study of any modifications to the nucleic acid and histone proteins within the nucleosome — independent of DNA sequence — is known as epigenetics. Researchers first considered epigenetics when they identified X chromosome inactivation in mice in the absence of DNA arrangements. Since then, scientists have identified a wide range of these modifications that affect which and how much genes are expressed. Each of them shares several traits:

Types of Epigenetic Modifications

Cells can modify genes through several mechanisms. Each of these affects chromatin accessibility, gene expression, and cell identity. Here are some of the epigenetic modifications that exist:

Conducting a Single-Cell Epigenomics Study

Many kinds of epigenetic modifications that affect a cell’s differentiation and generate cell-type-specific phenotypes exist. Scientists have since learned to characterize the variability in a cell’s epigenome by developing high-throughput profiling tools. Additionally, researchers have fine-tuned these tools to become single-cell multi-omics approaches. By using features such as barcoding and cell enrichment, these techniques have helped generate single-cell genome-wide epigenetics profiles. Some of these tools include:

Many of the tools listed here have already shed important insights into cell activity in the human body. For instance, the Darren Cusanovich lab modified scATAC-seq to identify enhancers to identify tissue-specific processes that occur as embryos are being developed.

Epigenetics in Therapy

Epigenetics plays an important role in regulating cell activity in vivo. As such, researchers have applied the epigenomic profiling tools we discussed to study many kinds of diseases. For the following diseases, epigenetic modifications have played crucial roles:

Excedr Leases the Equipment You Need for Single-Cell Epigenomics

A single-cell epigenetics study can be a time-consuming and costly process given the complex pipelines associated with them. Our brand-agnostic approach allows us to provide you with the exact equipment you need to study epigenetics at the single-cell level. Two technologies are especially relevant for studying the DNA and proteins involved with epigenetic modifications. They are:

If you’re interested in acquiring NGS and mass spectrometry equipment, leasing is a cost-effective and flexible option. The most significant benefit besides getting the equipment you need into your lab is the ability to reduce upfront costs and retain cash, thus extending your cash runway and preserving working capital for other areas.

Improve Your Epigenomic Profiling Methods with New Equipment

Genetics has been a key driver of the diverse traits that comprise human life. Even so, human cells can demonstrate varying phenotypes when genetic differences are absent. Many of these modifications manifest as molecular groups that modify nucleic acids and histone proteins. With so many kinds of modifications, scientists have developed high-throughput single-cell tools to profile them all in single cells. By using next-generation sequencers and mass spectrometers, researchers have identified many modifications associated with health and disease and shed valuable insights into the diversity of cellular life.

Excedr’s leasing program can help you study the epigenome at the single-cell level. We can lease the equipment your lab needs to study the epigenetic modifications within individual cells. From reducing upfront costs to extending cash runway, speak with our team today to learn exactly how we can help.