Open Access Open Badges Research article

Use of somatic mutations to quantify random contributions to mouse development

Wenyu Zhou1, Yunbing Tan2, Donovan J Anderson3, Eva M Crist3, Hannele Ruohola-Baker4, Stephen J Salipante5 and Marshall S Horwitz3*

Author affiliations

1 Department of Biology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, 98195, USA

2 The School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Washington State University, Pullman, WA, 99163, USA

3 Department of Pathology, University of Washington, Box 358056, Seattle, WA, 98195, USA

4 Department of Biochemistry, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, 98195, USA

5 Department of Laboratory Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, 98195, USA

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Citation and License

BMC Genomics 2013, 14:39  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-14-39

Published: 18 January 2013



The C. elegans cell fate map, in which the lineage of its approximately 1000 cells is visibly charted beginning from the zygote, represents a developmental biology milestone. Nematode development is invariant from one specimen to the next, whereas in mammals, aspects of development are probabilistic, and development exhibits variation between even genetically identical individuals. Consequently, a single defined cell fate map applicable to all individuals cannot exist.


To determine the extent to which patterns of cell lineage are conserved between different mice, we have employed the recently developed method of “phylogenetic fate mapping” to compare cell fate maps in siblings. In this approach, somatic mutations arising in individual cells are used to retrospectively deduce lineage relationships through phylogenetic and—as newly investigated here—related analytical approaches based on genetic distance. We have cataloged genomic mutations at an average of 110 mutation-prone polyguanine (polyG) tracts for about 100 cells clonally isolated from various corresponding tissues of each of two littermates of a hypermutable mouse strain.


We find that during mouse development, muscle and fat arise from a mixed progenitor cell pool in the germ layer, but, contrastingly, vascular endothelium in brain derives from a smaller source of progenitor cells. Additionally, formation of tissue primordia is marked by establishment of left and right lateral compartments, with restricted cell migration between divisions. We quantitatively demonstrate that development represents a combination of stochastic and deterministic events, offering insight into how chance influences normal development and may give rise to birth defects.

Fate map; Cell lineage; Differentiation