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1.  An Observation-Driven Agent-Based Modeling and Analysis Framework for C. elegans Embryogenesis 
PLoS ONE  2016;11(11):e0166551.
With cutting-edge live microscopy and image analysis, biologists can now systematically track individual cells in complex tissues and quantify cellular behavior over extended time windows. Computational approaches that utilize the systematic and quantitative data are needed to understand how cells interact in vivo to give rise to the different cell types and 3D morphology of tissues. An agent-based, minimum descriptive modeling and analysis framework is presented in this paper to study C. elegans embryogenesis. The framework is designed to incorporate the large amounts of experimental observations on cellular behavior and reserve data structures/interfaces that allow regulatory mechanisms to be added as more insights are gained. Observed cellular behaviors are organized into lineage identity, timing and direction of cell division, and path of cell movement. The framework also includes global parameters such as the eggshell and a clock. Division and movement behaviors are driven by statistical models of the observations. Data structures/interfaces are reserved for gene list, cell-cell interaction, cell fate and landscape, and other global parameters until the descriptive model is replaced by a regulatory mechanism. This approach provides a framework to handle the ongoing experiments of single-cell analysis of complex tissues where mechanistic insights lag data collection and need to be validated on complex observations.
PMCID: PMC5113041  PMID: 27851808
2.  The Regulatory Landscape of Lineage Differentiation in a Metazoan Embryo 
Developmental cell  2015;34(5):592-607.
Elucidating the mechanism of cell lineage differentiation is critical for our understanding of development and fate manipulation. Here we combined systematic perturbation and direct lineaging to map the regulatory landscape of lineage differentiation in early C. elegans embryogenesis. High-dimensional phenotypic analysis of 204 essential genes in 1,368 embryos revealed that cell lineage differentiation follows a canalized landscape with barriers shaped by lineage distance and genetic robustness. We assigned function to 201 genes in regulating lineage differentiation including 175 switches of binary fate choices. We generated a multiscale model that connects gene networks and cells to the experimentally mapped landscape. Simulations showed that the landscape topology determines the propensity of differentiation and regulatory complexity. Furthermore, the model allowed us to identify the chromatin assembly complex CAF-1 as a context-specific repressor of Notch signaling. Our study presents a systematic survey of the regulatory landscape of lineage differentiation of a metazoan embryo.
Graphical Abstract
PMCID: PMC4573902  PMID: 26321128
3.  POS-1 promotes endo-mesoderm development by inhibiting the cytoplasmic polyadenylation of neg-1 mRNA 
Developmental cell  2015;34(1):108-118.
The regulation of mRNA translation is of fundamental importance in biological mechanisms ranging from embryonic axis specification to formation of long-term memory. POS-1 is one of several CCCH zinc-finger RNA-binding proteins that regulate cell-fate specification during C. elegans embryogenesis. Paradoxically, pos-1 mutants exhibit striking defects in endo-mesoderm development, but have wildtype distributions of SKN-1, a key determinant of endo-mesoderm fates. RNAi screens for pos-1 suppressors identified genes encoding the cytoplasmic poly(A)-polymerase homolog GLD-2, the Bicaudal-C homolog GLD-3, and the protein NEG-1. We show that NEG-1 localizes in anterior nuclei where it negatively regulates endo-mesoderm fates. In posterior cells, POS-1 binds the neg-1 3′UTR to oppose GLD-2 and GLD-3 activities that promote NEG-1 expression and cytoplasmic lengthening of the neg-1 mRNA poly(A) tail. Our findings uncover an intricate series of post-transcriptional regulatory interactions that together achieve precise spatial expression of endo-mesoderm fates in C. elegans embryos.
PMCID: PMC4507413  PMID: 26096734
4.  E3 ubiquitin ligases promote progression of differentiation during C. elegans embryogenesis 
Developmental biology  2014;398(2):267-279.
Regulated choice between cell fate maintenance and differentiation provides decision points in development to progress toward more restricted cell fates or to maintain the current one. C. elegans embryogenesis follows an invariant cell lineage where cell fate is generally more restricted upon each cell division. EMS is a progenitor cell in the four-cell embryo that gives rise to the endomesoderm. We recently found that when ubiquitin-mediated protein degradation is compromised, the anterior daughter of EMS, namely MS, reiterates the EMS fate. This observation demonstrates an essential function of ubiquitin-mediated protein degradation in driving the progression of EMS-to-MS differentiation. Here we report a genome-wide screen of the ubiquitin pathway and extensive lineage analyses. The results suggest a broad role of E3 ligases in driving differentiation progression. First, we identified three substrate-binding proteins for two CRL (Cullin-RING ubiquitin Ligase) E3 complexes that promote the progression from the EMS fate to MS, namely LIN-23/β-TrCP and FBXB-3 for the CRL1/SCF complex and ZYG-11/ZYG-11B for the CRL2 complex. Genetic analyses suggest these E3 ligases function through a multifunctional protein OMA-1 and the endomesoderm lineage specifier SKN-1 to drive differentiation. Second, we found that depletion of components of the CRL1/SCF complex induces fate reiteration in all major founder cell lineages. These data suggest that regulated choice between self-renewal and differentiation is widespread during C. elegans embryogenesis as in organisms with regulative development, and ubiquitin-mediated protein degradation drives the choice towards differentiation. Finally, bioinformatic analysis of time series gene expression data showed that expression of E3 genes is transiently enriched during time windows of developmental stage transitions. Transcription factors show similar enrichment, but not other classes of regulatory genes. Based on these findings we propose that ubiquitin-mediated protein degradation, like many transcription factors, function broadly as regulators driving developmental progression during embryogenesis in C. elegans.
PMCID: PMC4314322  PMID: 25523393
differentiation; self-renewal; ubiquitin ligase; cell lineage; endomesoderm; C. elegans
5.  Untwisting the Caenorhabditis elegans embryo 
eLife  null;4:e10070.
The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans possesses a simple embryonic nervous system with few enough neurons that the growth of each cell could be followed to provide a systems-level view of development. However, studies of single cell development have largely been conducted in fixed or pre-twitching live embryos, because of technical difficulties associated with embryo movement in late embryogenesis. We present open-source untwisting and annotation software ( that allows the investigation of neurodevelopmental events in late embryogenesis and apply it to track the 3D positions of seam cell nuclei, neurons, and neurites in multiple elongating embryos. We also provide a tutorial describing how to use the software (Supplementary file 1) and a detailed description of the untwisting algorithm (Appendix). The detailed positional information we obtained enabled us to develop a composite model showing movement of these cells and neurites in an 'average' worm embryo. The untwisting and cell tracking capabilities of our method provide a foundation on which to catalog C. elegans neurodevelopment, allowing interrogation of developmental events in previously inaccessible periods of embryogenesis.
eLife digest
Understanding how the brain and nervous system develops from a few cells into complex, interconnected networks is a key goal for neuroscientists. Although researchers have identified many of the genes involved in this process, how these work together to form an entire brain remains unknown.
A simple worm called Caenorhabiditis elegans is commonly used to study brain development because it has only about 300 neurons, simplifying the study of its nervous system. The worms are easy to grow in the laboratory and are transparent, allowing scientists to observe how living worms develop using a microscope. Researchers have learned a great deal about the initial growth of the nervous system in C. elegans embryos. However, it has been difficult to study the embryos once their muscles have formed because they constantly twist, fold, and move, making it hard to track the cells.
Now, Christensen, Bokinsky, Santella, Wu et al. have developed a computer program that allows scientists to virtually untwist the embryos and follow the development of the nervous system from its beginning to when the embryo hatches. First, images are taken of worm embryos that produce fluorescent proteins marking certain body parts. The program, with user input, labels the fluorescent cells in the images, which indicates how the embryo is bending and allows the program to straighten the worm. The program can also track how cells move around the embryo during development and show the positional relationships between different cells at different stages of development.
Christensen et al. have made the program freely available for other researchers to use. The next step is to increase automation, making the software faster and more straightforward for users. Ultimately, the software could help in the challenge to comprehensively examine the development of each neuron in the worm.
PMCID: PMC4764590  PMID: 26633880
light sheet microscopy; embryonic neurodevelopment; computational biology; systems biology; C.elegans embryo untwisting; embryonic morphogenesis; C. elegans
6.  Digital development: a database of cell lineage differentiation in C. elegans with lineage phenotypes, cell-specific gene functions and a multiscale model 
Nucleic Acids Research  2015;44(Database issue):D781-D785.
Developmental systems biology is poised to exploit large-scale data from two approaches: genomics and live imaging. The combination of the two offers the opportunity to map gene functions and gene networks in vivo at single-cell resolution using cell tracking and quantification of cellular phenotypes. Here we present Digital Development (, a database of cell lineage differentiation with curated phenotypes, cell-specific gene functions and a multiscale model. The database stores data from recent systematic studies of cell lineage differentiation in the C. elegans embryo containing ∼200 conserved genes, 1400 perturbed cell lineages and 600 000 digitized single cells. Users can conveniently browse, search and download four categories of phenotypic and functional information from an intuitive web interface. This information includes lineage differentiation phenotypes, cell-specific gene functions, differentiation landscapes and fate choices, and a multiscale model of lineage differentiation. Digital Development provides a comprehensive, curated, multidimensional database for developmental biology. The scale, resolution and richness of biological information presented here facilitate exploration of gene-specific and systems-level mechanisms of lineage differentiation in Metazoans.
PMCID: PMC4702815  PMID: 26503254
7.  FePt nanoparticles as a potential X-ray activated chemotherapy agent for HeLa cells 
Nanomaterials have an advantage in “personalized” therapy, which is the ultimate goal of tumor treatment. In order to investigate the potential ability of FePt nanoparticles (NPs) in the diagnosis and chemoradiotherapy treatment of malignant tumors, superparamagnetic, monodispersed FePt (~3 nm) alloy NPs were synthesized, using cysteamine as a capping agent. The NPs were characterized by means of X-ray diffraction; transmission electron microscopy, Physical Property Measurement System, and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy. The cytotoxicity of FePt NPs on Vero cells was assessed using an MTT assay, and tumor cell proliferation inhibited by individual FePt NPs and FePt NPs combined with X-ray beams were also collected using MTT assays; HeLa human cancer cell lines were used as in vitro models. Further confirmation of the combined effect of FePt NPs and X-rays was verified using HeLa cells, after which, the cellular uptake of FePt NPs was captured by transmission electron microscopy. The results indicated that the growth of HeLa cells was significantly inhibited by FePt NPs in a concentration-dependent manner, and the growth was significantly more inhibited by FePt NPs combined with a series of X-ray beam doses; the individual NPs did not display any remarkable cytotoxicity on Vero cells at a concentration <250 μg/mL. Meanwhile, the FePt NPs showed negative/positive contrast enhancement for MRI/CT molecule imaging at the end of the study. Therefore, the combined results implied that FePt NPs might potentially serve as a promising nanoprobe for the integration of tumor diagnosis and chemoradiotherapy.
PMCID: PMC4629968  PMID: 26604740
superparamagnetism; MRI/CT; chemoradiotherapy; intelligent nanoprobe
8.  WormGUIDES: an interactive single cell developmental atlas and tool for collaborative multidimensional data exploration 
BMC Bioinformatics  2015;16(1):189.
Imaging and image analysis advances are yielding increasingly complete and complicated records of cellular events in tissues and whole embryos. The ability to follow hundreds to thousands of cells at the individual level demands a spatio-temporal data infrastructure: tools to assemble and collate knowledge about development spatially in a manner analogous to geographic information systems (GIS). Just as GIS indexes items or events based on their spatio-temporal or 4D location on the Earth these tools would organize knowledge based on location within the tissues or embryos. Developmental processes are highly context-specific, but the complexity of the 4D environment in which they unfold is a barrier to assembling an understanding of any particular process from diverse sources of information. In the same way that GIS aids the understanding and use of geo-located large data sets, software can, with a proper frame of reference, allow large biological data sets to be understood spatially. Intuitive tools are needed to navigate the spatial structure of complex tissue, collate large data sets and existing knowledge with this spatial structure and help users derive hypotheses about developmental mechanisms.
Toward this goal we have developed WormGUIDES, a mobile application that presents a 4D developmental atlas for Caenorhabditis elegans. The WormGUIDES mobile app enables users to navigate a 3D model depicting the nuclear positions of all cells in the developing embryo. The identity of each cell can be queried with a tap, and community databases searched for available information about that cell. Information about ancestry, fate and gene expression can be used to label cells and craft customized visualizations that highlight cells as potential players in an event of interest. Scenes are easily saved, shared and published to other WormGUIDES users. The mobile app is available for Android and iOS platforms.
WormGUIDES provides an important tool for examining developmental processes and developing mechanistic hypotheses about their control. Critically, it provides the typical end user with an intuitive interface for developing and sharing custom visualizations of developmental processes. Equally important, because users can select cells based on their position and search for information about them, the app also serves as a spatially organized index into the large body of knowledge available to the C. elegans community online. Moreover, the app can be used to create and publish the result of exploration: interactive content that brings other researchers and students directly to the spatio-temporal point of insight. Ultimately the app will incorporate a detailed time lapse record of cell shape, beginning with neurons. This will add the key ability to navigate and understand the developmental events that result in the coordinated and precise emergence of anatomy, particularly the wiring of the nervous system.
PMCID: PMC4459063  PMID: 26051157
Visualization; C. elegans; Morphogenesis; Neurons; Single-cell analysis
9.  Specific roles for the GATA transcription factors end-1 and end-3 during C. elegans E-lineage development 
Developmental biology  2011;358(2):345-355.
end-1 and end-3 are GATA transcription factors important for specifying endoderm cell fate in Caenorhabditis elegans. Deletion of both factors together results in larval arrest, 0% survival and a fate change in the endoderm-specifying E lineage. Individual deletions of either factor, however, result in the development of viable, fertile adults, with 100% of worms developing to adults for end-1(−) and 95% for end-3(−). We sought to quantify the variable phenotypes seen in both deletions using automated cell lineaging. We quantified defects in cell lifetime, cell movement and division axis in end-3(−) embryos, while quantifying perturbations in downstream reporter gene expression in strains with homozygous deletions for either gene, showing that each deletion leads to a unique profile of downstream perturbations in gene expression and cellular phenotypes with a high correlation between early and late defects. Combining observations in both cellular and gene expression defects we found that misaligned divisions at the E2 stage resulted in ectopic expression of the Notch target ref-1 in end-3(−) embryos. Using a maximum likelihood phylogenetic approach we found end-1 and end-3 split to form two distinct clades within the Caenorhabditis lineage with distinct DNA-binding structures. These results indicate that end-1 and end-3 have each evolved into genes with unique functions during endoderm development, that end-3(−) embryos have a delay in the onset of E lineage cell fate and that end-1 has only a partially penetrant ability to activate E lineage fate.
PMCID: PMC4454387  PMID: 21854766
C. elegans; Endoderm; GATA factors; Gene expression; Cell fate; Cell migration; Gastrulation
10.  Fast high-contrast imaging of animal development with scanned light sheet-based structured illumination microscopy 
Nature methods  2010;7(8):637-642.
Recording light microscopic images of large, non-transparent specimens, such as developing multi-cellular organisms, is complicated by decreased contrast due to light scattering. Early zebrafish development can be captured by standard light sheet microscopy; however, new imaging strategies are required to obtain high-quality data of late development or of less transparent organisms. We combined Digital Scanned Laser Light Sheet Fluorescence Microscopy (DSLM) with incoherent structured illumination microscopy and created structured illumination patterns with continuously adjustable frequencies (DSLM-SI). Our method discriminates the specimen-related scattered background from signal fluorescence, thereby removing out-of-focus light and optimizing the contrast of in-focus structures. DSLM-SI provides rapid control of the illumination pattern, exceptional imaging quality and high imaging speeds. We performed long-term imaging of zebrafish development for 58 hours and fast multiple-view imaging of early Drosophila development. We reconstructed cell positions over time from the Drosophila DSLM-SI data and created a Fly Digital Embryo.
PMCID: PMC4418465  PMID: 20601950
11.  Dual-view plane illumination microscopy for rapid and spatially isotropic imaging 
Nature protocols  2014;9(11):2555-2573.
We describe the construction and use of a compact dual-view inverted selective plane illumination microscope (diSPIM) for time-lapse volumetric (4D) imaging of living samples at subcellular resolution. Our protocol enables a biologist with some prior microscopy experience to assemble a diSPIM from commercially available parts, to align optics and test system performance, to prepare samples, and to control hardware and data processing with our software. Unlike existing light sheet microscopy protocols, our method does not require the sample to be embedded in agarose; instead, samples are prepared conventionally on glass coverslips. Tissue culture cells and Caenorhabditis elegans embryos are used as examples in this protocol; successful implementation of the protocol results in isotropic resolution and acquisition speeds up to several volumes per s on these samples. Assembling and verifying diSPIM performance takes ~6 d, sample preparation and data acquisition take up to 5 d and postprocessing takes 3–8 h, depending on the size of the data.
PMCID: PMC4386612  PMID: 25299154
12.  De Novo Inference of Systems-Level Mechanistic Models of Development from Live-Imaging-Based Phenotype Analysis 
Cell  2014;156(0):359-372.
Elucidation of complex phenotypes for mechanistic insights presents a significant challenge in systems biology. We report a strategy to automatically infer mechanistic models of cell fate differentiation based on live-imaging data. We use cell lineage tracing and combinations of tissue-specific marker expression to assay progenitor cell fate and detect fate changes upon genetic perturbation. Based on the cellular phenotypes, we further construct a model for how fate differentiation progresses in progenitor cells and predict cell-specific gene modules and cell-to-cell signaling events that regulate the series of fate choices. We validate our approach in C. elegans embryogenesis by perturbing 20 genes in over 300 embryos. The result not only recapitulates current knowledge but also provides insights into gene function and regulated fate choice, including an unexpected self-renewal. Our study provides a powerful approach for automated and quantitative interpretation of complex in vivo information.
PMCID: PMC3998820  PMID: 24439388
13.  Spatially isotropic four-dimensional imaging with dual-view plane illumination microscopy 
Nature biotechnology  2013;31(11):1032-1038.
Optimal four-dimensional imaging requires high spatial resolution in all dimensions, high speed and minimal photobleaching and damage. We developed a dual-view, plane illumination microscope with improved spatiotemporal resolution by switching illumination and detection between two perpendicular objectives in an alternating duty cycle. Computationally fusing the resulting volumetric views provides an isotropic resolution of 330 nm. As the sample is stationary and only two views are required, we achieve an imaging speed of 200 images/s (i.e., 0.5 s for a 50-plane volume). Unlike spinning-disk confocal or Bessel beam methods, which illuminate the sample outside the focal plane, we maintain high spatiotemporal resolution over hundreds of volumes with negligible photobleaching. To illustrate the ability of our method to study biological systems that require high-speed volumetric visualization and/or low photobleaching, we describe microtubule tracking in live cells, nuclear imaging over 14 h during nematode embryogenesis and imaging of neural wiring during Caenorhabditis elegans brain development over 5 h.
PMCID: PMC4105320  PMID: 24108093
14.  A semi-local neighborhood-based framework for probabilistic cell lineage tracing 
BMC Bioinformatics  2014;15:217.
Advances in fluorescence labeling and imaging have made it possible to acquire in vivo records of complex biological processes. Analysis has lagged behind acquisition in part because of the difficulty and computational expense of accurate cell tracking. In vivo analysis requires, at minimum, tracking hundreds of cells over hundreds of time points in complex three dimensional environments. We address this challenge with a computational framework capable of efficiently and accurately tracing entire cell lineages.
The bulk of the tracking problem—tracking cells during interphase—is straightforward and can be executed with simple and fast methods. Difficult cases originate from detection errors and relatively rare large motions. Therefore, our method focuses computational effort on difficult cases identified by local increases in cell number. We force these cases into tentative cell track bifurcations, which define natural semi-local neighborhoods that permit Bayesian judgment about the underlying cell behavior. The bifurcation judgment process not only correctly tracks through cell divisions and large movements, but also offers corrections to detection errors. We demonstrate that this method enables large scale analysis of Caenorhabditis elegans development, an ideal validation platform because of an invariant cell lineage.
The high accuracy achieved by our method suggests that a bifurcation-based semi-local neighborhood provides sufficient information to recognize dependencies between nearby tracking choices, and to interpret difficult tracking cases without reverting to global optimization. Our method makes large amounts of lineage data accessible and opens the door to new types of statistical analysis of complex in vivo processes.
PMCID: PMC4085468  PMID: 24964866
Image processing; Microscopy; In vivo; Cell tracking; Developmental biology
15.  Irises 
Worm  2014;3:e29041.
The DNA content of nuclei is a valuable measure of cell cycle status. Irises is a software tool to facilitate systematic in situ determination of DNA content for cell cycle analysis at single-nucleus resolution within complex tissues. We demonstrate the utility of the tool with analysis of DNA content in germline nuclei of C. elegans. Compared with results obtained by manual analysis, we find the tool greatly facilitates analysis by improving speed at least 5-fold while maintaining accuracy. The source code and instruction manual (including installation for both Mac and PC) are provided.
PMCID: PMC4165541  PMID: 25254149
C. elegans; germline; ploidy; cell cycle; image analysis
16.  Actomyosin-based Self-organization of cell internalization during C. elegans gastrulation 
BMC Biology  2012;10:94.
Gastrulation is a key transition in embryogenesis; it requires self-organized cellular coordination, which has to be both robust to allow efficient development and plastic to provide adaptability. Despite the conservation of gastrulation as a key event in Metazoan embryogenesis, the morphogenetic mechanisms of self-organization (how global order or coordination can arise from local interactions) are poorly understood.
We report a modular structure of cell internalization in Caenorhabditis elegans gastrulation that reveals mechanisms of self-organization. Cells that internalize during gastrulation show apical contractile flows, which are correlated with centripetal extensions from surrounding cells. These extensions converge to seal over the internalizing cells in the form of rosettes. This process represents a distinct mode of monolayer remodeling, with gradual extrusion of the internalizing cells and simultaneous tissue closure without an actin purse-string. We further report that this self-organizing module can adapt to severe topological alterations, providing evidence of scalability and plasticity of actomyosin-based patterning. Finally, we show that globally, the surface cell layer undergoes coplanar division to thin out and spread over the internalizing mass, which resembles epiboly.
The combination of coplanar division-based spreading and recurrent local modules for piecemeal internalization constitutes a system-level solution of gradual volume rearrangement under spatial constraint. Our results suggest that the mode of C. elegans gastrulation can be unified with the general notions of monolayer remodeling and with distinct cellular mechanisms of actomyosin-based morphogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3583717  PMID: 23198792
C. elegans; gastrulation; actomyosin; cellular rosette
17.  Chiral forces organize left-right patterning in C. elegans by uncoupling midline and anteroposterior axis 
Developmental cell  2010;19(3):402-412.
Left-right (LR) patterning is an intriguing but poorly understood process aspect of bilaterian embryogenesis. We report a mechanism for LR patterning in C. elegans in which the embryo uncouples its midline from the anteroposterior (AP) axis. Specifically, the eight-cell embryo establishes a midline that is tilted rightward from the AP axis and positions more cells on the left, allowing subsequent differential LR fate inductions. To establish the tilted midline, cells exhibit LR asymmetric protrusions and a handed collective movement. This process, termed chiral morphogenesis, involves differential regulation of cortical contractility between a pair of sister cells that are bilateral counterparts fate-wise, and is activated by non-canonical Wnt signaling. Chiral morphogenesis is timed by the cytokinetic furrow of a neighbor of the sister pair, providing a developmental clock and an unexpected signaling interaction between the contractile ring and adjacent cells.
PMCID: PMC2952354  PMID: 20833362
18.  A hybrid blob-slice model for accurate and efficient detection of fluorescence labeled nuclei in 3D 
BMC Bioinformatics  2010;11:580.
To exploit the flood of data from advances in high throughput imaging of optically sectioned nuclei, image analysis methods need to correctly detect thousands of nuclei, ideally in real time. Variability in nuclear appearance and undersampled volumetric data make this a challenge.
We present a novel 3D nuclear identification method, which subdivides the problem, first segmenting nuclear slices within each 2D image plane, then using a shape model to assemble these slices into 3D nuclei. This hybrid 2D/3D approach allows accurate accounting for nuclear shape but exploits the clear 2D nuclear boundaries that are present in sectional slices to avoid the computational burden of fitting a complex shape model to volume data. When tested over C. elegans, Drosophila, zebrafish and mouse data, our method yielded 0 to 3.7% error, up to six times more accurate as well as being 30 times faster than published performances. We demonstrate our method's potential by reconstructing the morphogenesis of the C. elegans pharynx. This is an important and much studied developmental process that could not previously be followed at this single cell level of detail.
Because our approach is specialized for the characteristics of optically sectioned nuclear images, it can achieve superior accuracy in significantly less time than other approaches. Both of these characteristics are necessary for practical analysis of overwhelmingly large data sets where processing must be scalable to hundreds of thousands of cells and where the time cost of manual error correction makes it impossible to use data with high error rates. Our approach is fast, accurate, available as open source software and its learned shape model is easy to retrain. As our pharynx development example shows, these characteristics make single cell analysis relatively easy and will enable novel experimental methods utilizing complex data sets.
PMCID: PMC3008706  PMID: 21114815
19.  Comparative Analysis of Embryonic Cell Lineage between Caenorhabditis briggsae and C. elegans 
Developmental biology  2007;314(1):93-99.
Comparative genomic analysis of important signaling pathways in C. briggase and C. elegans reveals both conserved features and also differences. To build a framework to address the significance of these features we determined the C. briggsae embryonic cell lineage, using the tools StarryNite and AceTree. We traced both cell divisions and cell positions for all cells through all but the last round of cell division and for selected cells through the final round. We found the lineage to be remarkably similar to that of C. elegans. Not only did the founder cells give rise to similar numbers of progeny, the relative cell division timing and positions were largely maintained. These lineage similarities appear to give rise to similar cell fates as judged both by the positions of lineally-equivalent cells and by the patterns of cell deaths in both species. However, some reproducible differences were seen, e.g., the P4 cell cycle length is more than 40% longer in C. briggsae than that in C. elegans (p < 0.01). The extensive conservation of embryonic development between such divergent species suggests that substantial evolutionary distance between these two species has not altered these early developmental cellular events, although the developmental defects of transpecies hybrids suggest that the details of the underlying molecular pathways have diverged sufficiently so as to not be interchangeable.
PMCID: PMC2696483  PMID: 18164284
C. briggsae; C. elegans; embryo; cell lineage; signaling pathway
20.  Control of Cell Cycle Timing during C. elegans Embryogenesis 
Developmental biology  2008;318(1):65-72.
As a fundamental process of development, cell proliferation must be coordinated with other processes such as fate differentiation. Through statistical analysis of individual cell cycle lengths of the first eight out of ten rounds of embryonic cell division in C. elegans, we identified synchronous and invariantly ordered divisions that are tightly associated with fate differentiation. Our results suggest a three-tier model for fate control of cell cycle pace: the primary control of cell cycle pace is established by lineage and the founder cell fate, then fine-tuned by tissue and organ differentiation within each lineage, then further modified by individualization of cells as they acquire unique morphological and physiological roles in the variant body plan. We then set out to identify the pace-setting mechanisms in different fates. Our results suggest that ubiquitin-mediated degradation of CDC-25.1 is a rate-determining step for the E (gut) and P3 (muscle and germline) lineages but not others, even though CDC-25.1 and its apparent decay have been detected in all lineages. Our results demonstrate the power of C. elegans embryogenesis as a model to dissect the interaction between differentiation and proliferation, and an effective approach combining genetic and statistical analysis at single-cell resolution.
PMCID: PMC2442716  PMID: 18430415
statistics; single cell; fate differentiation; cdc25; Skp1-related
21.  Automated analysis of embryonic gene expression with cellular resolution in C. elegans 
Nature methods  2008;5(8):703-709.
We describe a system that permits the automated analysis of reporter gene expression in Caenorhabditis elegans with cellular resolution continuously during embryogenesis and demonstrate its utility by defining the expression patterns of reporters for several embryonically expressed transcription factors. The invariant cell lineage permits the automated alignment of multiple expression profiles, allowing the direct comparison of the expression of different genes' reporters. We have also used the system to monitor perturbations to normal development involving changes both in cell division timing and in cell fate. Systematic application could reveal the gene activity of each cell throughout development.
PMCID: PMC2553703  PMID: 18587405
22.  AceTree: a tool for visual analysis of Caenorhabditis elegans embryogenesis 
BMC Bioinformatics  2006;7:275.
The invariant lineage of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans has potential as a powerful tool for the description of mutant phenotypes and gene expression patterns. We previously described procedures for the imaging and automatic extraction of the cell lineage from C. elegans embryos. That method uses time-lapse confocal imaging of a strain expressing histone-GFP fusions and a software package, StarryNite, processes the thousands of images and produces output files that describe the location and lineage relationship of each nucleus at each time point.
We have developed a companion software package, AceTree, which links the images and the annotations using tree representations of the lineage. This facilitates curation and editing of the lineage. AceTree also contains powerful visualization and interpretive tools, such as space filling models and tree-based expression patterning, that can be used to extract biological significance from the data.
By pairing a fast lineaging program written in C with a user interface program written in Java we have produced a powerful software suite for exploring embryonic development.
PMCID: PMC1501046  PMID: 16740163
23.  The Genome Sequence of Caenorhabditis briggsae: A Platform for Comparative Genomics 
PLoS Biology  2003;1(2):e45.
The soil nematodes Caenorhabditis briggsae and Caenorhabditis elegans diverged from a common ancestor roughly 100 million years ago and yet are almost indistinguishable by eye. They have the same chromosome number and genome sizes, and they occupy the same ecological niche. To explore the basis for this striking conservation of structure and function, we have sequenced the C. briggsae genome to a high-quality draft stage and compared it to the finished C. elegans sequence. We predict approximately 19,500 protein-coding genes in the C. briggsae genome, roughly the same as in C. elegans. Of these, 12,200 have clear C. elegans orthologs, a further 6,500 have one or more clearly detectable C. elegans homologs, and approximately 800 C. briggsae genes have no detectable matches in C. elegans. Almost all of the noncoding RNAs (ncRNAs) known are shared between the two species. The two genomes exhibit extensive colinearity, and the rate of divergence appears to be higher in the chromosomal arms than in the centers. Operons, a distinctive feature of C. elegans, are highly conserved in C. briggsae, with the arrangement of genes being preserved in 96% of cases. The difference in size between the C. briggsae (estimated at approximately 104 Mbp) and C. elegans (100.3 Mbp) genomes is almost entirely due to repetitive sequence, which accounts for 22.4% of the C. briggsae genome in contrast to 16.5% of the C. elegans genome. Few, if any, repeat families are shared, suggesting that most were acquired after the two species diverged or are undergoing rapid evolution. Coclustering the C. elegans and C. briggsae proteins reveals 2,169 protein families of two or more members. Most of these are shared between the two species, but some appear to be expanding or contracting, and there seem to be as many as several hundred novel C. briggsae gene families. The C. briggsae draft sequence will greatly improve the annotation of the C. elegans genome. Based on similarity to C. briggsae, we found strong evidence for 1,300 new C. elegans genes. In addition, comparisons of the two genomes will help to understand the evolutionary forces that mold nematode genomes.
With the Caenorhabditis briggsae genome now in hand, C. elegans biologists have a powerful new research tool to refine their knowledge of gene function in C. elegans and to study the path of genome evolution
PMCID: PMC261899  PMID: 14624247

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