From horse-drawn carriages to steam locomotives, from handwritten letters to radio waves, and from Turing machines to supercomputers, human technology has undergone continuous upgrades, liberating productivity and progressively narrowing the gap between reality and our dreams, or taking our dreams on to an even higher plane.
The same holds true for biology and numerous other disciplines in the life sciences. Cutting-edge technologies have propelled human curiosity on a journey through the vast ocean of knowledge about life, leading us to uncharted territories each day. From the invention of the microscope in 1590 to the application of DNA sequencing in the late 20th century, the tools for studying life have enabled groundbreaking discoveries that provide deeper insights into our world.
For more than two decades, BGI Group has remained at the forefront of inventing and developing life science technologies and tools, empowering scientists worldwide in their quest to unveil the mysteries of our existence. Among the organization's most recent and notable contributions are single-cell omics technology and Stereo-seq, which have played pivotal roles in vital scientific research projects across the globe.
Laboratory technician examines BGI Stereo-seq sequencing chip at VIB-KU Leuven Center for Cancer Biology in Belgium.
Cells serve as the fundamental building blocks of life, comprising the essential structural and functional units that shape the tissues, organs, and organ systems of diverse organisms. Consequently, studying organisms at the cellular level holds indisputable importance.
BGI Group has developed the single-cell omics technology and platform, which empowers scientists to conduct single-cell transcriptome research across more than 30 biological species, encompassing humans, animals, plants, and other life forms.
Through the utilization of this technology, research teams worldwide have achieved groundbreaking milestones. They have created the world's first comprehensive non-human primate whole-body cell transcriptomic atlas by examining long-tailed macaques. Additionally, they have produced the initial body-wide single-cell transcriptome atlas of domestic pigs, and shed light on the intricacies of the ant brain.
By harnessing the database, or single-cell library, generated by this technology, researchers can analyze cell types at an unprecedented single-cell resolution. This capability enables the development of methods for human disease diagnosis and treatment, assessment of clinical drug efficacy, exploration of cell evolution across species, and examination of brain functions.
While the single-cell omics technology represents a remarkable advancement, it is unable to capture cell location as the tissue is fragmented. However, Spatial transcriptomics technology fills this gap. Initially, only a single gene or a few genes could be located in situ. The advent of multicolor fluorescent labeling technology allowed the detection of hundreds, or even thousands, of genes, albeit not in a genome-wide manner.
To address this limitation, a new technology takes center stage - Stereo-seq (SpaTial Enhanced REsolution Omics-sequencing) technology.
Stereo-seq, a cutting-edge spatial temporal multi-omics technology developed by BGI Group, serves as the "GPS technology of life." It empowers scientists to create a comprehensive map of life, allowing them to identify the cell types comprising an organ, determine the spatial distribution of each cell, and understand the intricate relationships between different cells.
With the capability to detect 25,000 genes simultaneously, Stereo-seq provides insights into the types and locations of cells in relation to one another, enabling the observation of their dynamic changes and interactions over time. This technology proves invaluable in comprehending cellular microenvironments, organ development, and gaining a deeper understanding of human diseases and the aging process.
Stereo-seq leverages BGI's proprietary DNA nanoball technology for amplifying small DNA fragments into larger samples. It combines this with in situ RNA capture technology, achieving subcellular resolution at an impressive 500 nanometers (equivalent to 0.0000005 meters), coupled with a panoramic field of view spanning centimeter-level dimensions.
The largest Stereo-seq sequencing chip measures 13cm × 13cm, making it 500 times larger than other spatiotemporal omics sequencing chips. This substantial size enables the sequencing of complete tissue sections. With a resolution exceeding 100 billion pixels, Stereo-seq allows the visualization of biological processes at an unprecedented level of detail.
In May 2022, Stereo-seq's applications were highlighted in Cell Press journals with the publication of the world's first panoramic atlases for mice, small fruit flies, zebrafish, and the Arabidopsis plant. These atlases demonstrated the breakthrough achieved by Stereo-seq in terms of spatial resolution plus panoramic field of view, enabling the analysis of molecule and cell distributions in situ and over time.
Furthermore, Stereo-seq plays a pivotal role in the field of brain science, facilitating insights into brain development and regeneration. In September 2022, a research team led by BGI-Research employed Stereo-seq technology to construct the first cellular atlas of axolotl brain development and regeneration. Published in Science, the study revealed the regenerative potential of brain injuries. By creating a single-cell resolution spatiotemporal map of salamander brain development, the researchers highlighted molecular characteristics and spatial changes in neurons. Comparing the development and regeneration processes, they discovered similarities in neuron formation, suggesting that brain injuries trigger neural stem cells to revert to an early developmental state for regeneration.
Additionally, Stereo-seq has made significant contributions to cancer research, including studies on liver cancer and melanoma. By identifying different cell types and subpopulations within tumors and understanding their spatial relationships and dynamics, researchers gain valuable insights into disease progression. This knowledge paves the way for developing appropriate treatment strategies.
Experts in the field have expressed their awe at the capabilities of Stereo-seq. Dr. Ankur Sharma, Head of Onco-Fetal Ecosystem Laboratory at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research in Australia, describes the wide-view images and exceptional level of detail provided by Stereo-seq as "extraordinary." The ability to observe single-cell resolution in spatial context grants remarkable insights into the behavior of cancer cells.
Professor Chris Marine, Science Director at VIB-KU Leuven Center for Cancer Biology in Belgium, highlights the significance of using BGI technology in identifying and mapping crucial subpopulations of melanoma cells in tissue. Understanding the diversity and proximity of these subpopulations proves instrumental in developing effective interventions to decrease tumor burden, inhibit growth, and impede the spread of the disease.
The first quarter of the 21st century has been marked by significant transformations in human society, thanks to the remarkable advancements in life sciences technologies and tools. From the momentous completion of the Human Genome Project to the continuous stream of groundbreaking scientific explorations and discoveries, this era has witnessed extraordinary changes.
In this dynamic landscape, BGI Group has been at the forefront of pioneering efforts to develop cutting-edge means of exploring our world. With an unwavering commitment to scientific progress, BGI Group will continue to push the boundaries of innovation and contribute to the ever-evolving field of life sciences. By harnessing the power of technology, BGI Group strives to unlock new frontiers of knowledge and pave the way for a better understanding of our world.