Landmarks of human embryonic development inscribed in somatic mutations

Science. 2021 Mar 19;371(6535):1249-1253. doi: 10.1126/science.abe1544.


Although cell lineage information is fundamental to understanding organismal development, very little direct information is available for humans. We performed high-depth (250×) whole-genome sequencing of multiple tissues from three individuals to identify hundreds of somatic single-nucleotide variants (sSNVs). Using these variants as "endogenous barcodes" in single cells, we reconstructed early embryonic cell divisions. Targeted sequencing of clonal sSNVs in different organs (about 25,000×) and in more than 1000 cortical single cells, as well as single-nucleus RNA sequencing and single-nucleus assay for transposase-accessible chromatin sequencing of ~100,000 cortical single cells, demonstrated asymmetric contributions of early progenitors to extraembryonic tissues, distinct germ layers, and organs. Our data suggest onset of gastrulation at an effective progenitor pool of about 170 cells and about 50 to 100 founders for the forebrain. Thus, mosaic mutations provide a permanent record of human embryonic development at very high resolution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cell Division
  • Cell Lineage*
  • Clone Cells / cytology
  • Embryonic Development / genetics
  • Female
  • Gastrula / cytology
  • Gastrulation*
  • Genetic Variation
  • Germ Layers / cytology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mutation*
  • Neural Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Organogenesis
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • Prosencephalon / cytology*
  • Prosencephalon / embryology
  • Single-Cell Analysis
  • Whole Genome Sequencing