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Single cells: Same same but different

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If half of a cell population were coloured white and the other half were coloured black, scientists should think all cells are grey. Conventional methods average over thousands of cells, overlooking any cell-to-cell variability. ETH scientists now measured metabolite levels in single yeast cells and unmasked the difference of one cell to the next.

Despite the fact that all cells in our body share the same genetic material, our skin cells look dramatically different for instance from muscle cells. However, even one skin cell may look different from the next, due to cell age, position in the cell cycle or environmental factors. Studying such subtle differences is important when it comes to determining the dose or duration of a drug treating cancer or infections. A cancer cell that is for any reason slightly different from the rest of the bunch may survive chemotherapy and induce the generation of a new tumour.

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