Researchers present global map of human gene expression

London: Just as members of an orchestra are active at different times although playing the same piece of music, every cell in our body contains the same genetic sequence but expresses this differently to give rise to cells and tissues with specialized properties.

By integrating gene expression data from an unprecedented variety of human tissue samples, Alvis Brazma and his team at the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI), and their collaborators have for the first time produced a global map of gene expression.

The analysis used data collected from 163 lab worldwide involving 5,372 human samples from various tissues, cell types and diseases.

Most transcriptomics experiments compare gene expression in only a few cell types or conditions and although technically challenging, integrating this data on a large-scale has created a new way for scientists to explore gene expression.

Transcriptomics provides tools that help researchers gain a better understanding of how genes and pathways are involved in biological processes.

The analysis is visualised as a map subdividing the human gene expression space into six distinct major groups or `continents,` says an EBI release.

The continents emerged by grouping samples with similar gene expression signatures. This established the identity of the six groups: brain; muscle; hematopoietic (blood related); healthy and tumour solid tissues; cell lines derived from solid tissues; and partially differentiated cells.

By visualising these subsets in 3D, comparisons can be made on the degree of similarity in the gene expression profiles on each grouping. For example, analysis of the continents showed that cell lines are usually more similar to each other than to their tissue of origin.

The full analysis of the research has been published in Nature Biotechnology.