Tracing cell lineages is fundamental for understanding the rules governing development in multicellular organisms and delineating complex biological processes involving the differentiation of multiple cell types with distinct lineage hierarchies. In humans, experimental lineage tracing is unethical, and one has to rely on natural-mutation markers that are created within cells as they proliferate and age. Recent studies have demonstrated that it is now possible to trace lineages in normal, noncancerous cells with a variety of data types using natural variations in the nuclear and mitochondrial DNA as well as variations in DNA methylation status. It is also apparent that the scientific community is on the verge of being able to make a comprehensive and detailed cell lineage map of human embryonic and fetal development. In this review, we discuss the advantages and disadvantages of different approaches and markers for lineage tracing. We also describe the general conceptual design for how to derive a lineage map for humans.
Keywords: development; genome; methylation; mitochondria; nuclear; variant.