Single-cell transcriptomic characterization of a gastrulating human embryo

Nature. 2021 Dec;600(7888):285-289. doi: 10.1038/s41586-021-04158-y. Epub 2021 Nov 17.


Gastrulation is the fundamental process in all multicellular animals through which the basic body plan is first laid down1-4. It is pivotal in generating cellular diversity coordinated with spatial patterning. In humans, gastrulation occurs in the third week after fertilization. Our understanding of this process in humans is relatively limited and based primarily on historical specimens5-8, experimental models9-12 or, more recently, in vitro cultured samples13-16. Here we characterize in a spatially resolved manner the single-cell transcriptional profile of an entire gastrulating human embryo, staged to be between 16 and 19 days after fertilization. We use these data to analyse the cell types present and to make comparisons with other model systems. In addition to pluripotent epiblast, we identified primordial germ cells, red blood cells and various mesodermal and endodermal cell types. This dataset offers a unique glimpse into a central but inaccessible stage of our development. This characterization provides new context for interpreting experiments in other model systems and represents a valuable resource for guiding directed differentiation of human cells in vitro.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Datasets as Topic
  • Embryo, Mammalian / cytology*
  • Embryo, Mammalian / embryology
  • Embryo, Mammalian / metabolism*
  • Endoderm / cytology
  • Erythrocytes / cytology
  • Female
  • Gastrula / cytology*
  • Gastrula / metabolism
  • Gastrulation / genetics*
  • Gene Expression Profiling*
  • Germ Cells / cytology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mesoderm / cytology
  • Mice
  • Single-Cell Analysis*
  • Transcriptome*