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Spatial Transcriptomics Named Nature’s Method of the Year 2020

The novel method pairs transcriptional data with spatial data to create maps of gene expression within a tissue

On January 6, 2021, Nature announced spatial transcriptomics as their 2020 Method of the Year. 

Spatial transcriptomics is a new method that pairs transcriptional data with spatial data to create maps of gene expression within a given tissue. This new way to map gene transcripts is a key component to creating the Human Cell Atlas—an international effort to characterize and map every human cell type to better understand the biology of health and disease. 

Advances in microscopy and next-generation sequencing have made the creation of these transcript maps possible.

One approach to spatial transcriptomics uses fluorescent probes that hybridize to target transcripts in combination with super-resolution microscopy, which can detect thousands of transcripts with subcellular resolution. Another approach uses barcoded probes that each correspond to a specific location in the tissue section, so that researchers can map transcripts back to their original location after sequencing.

Spatial transcriptomics can be applied to many fields. In their recent announcement, the editors of Nature Methods believe the method will be crucial for understanding biological fields where there are several specialized cell types whose organization and functions are not yet well understood, including developmental biology, neurobiology, and tumor biology.

Clinically, researchers have used spatial transcriptomics to study tumor heterogeneity and the tumor microenvironment in order to understand the underlying molecular mechanisms of cancer pathogenesis. To learn more, see Clinical Lab Manager’s recent article on clinical spatial genomics.