Cellular identity at the single-cell level
A single cell creates surprising heterogeneity in a multicellular organism. While every organismal cell shares almost an identical genome, molecular interactions in cells alter the use of DNA sequences to modulate the gene of interest for specialization of cellular functions. Each cell gains a unique identity through molecular coding across the DNA, RNA, and protein conversions. On the other hand, loss of cellular identity leads to critical diseases such as cancer. Most cell identity dissection studies are based on bulk molecular assays that mask differences in individual cells. To probe cell-to-cell variability in a population, we discuss single cell approaches to decode the genetic, epigenetic, transcriptional, and translational mechanisms for cell identity formation. In combination with molecular instructions, the physical principles behind cell identity determination are examined. Deciphering and reprogramming cellular types impact biology and medicine.