Keeping an eye on the eye


Map provides insights into the retina’s genetic code


Visualisation of human retinal cells in three donor retina samples.

Raymond Wong

Here’s a look, of sorts, inside the human retina. Each dot represents one cell, and there are around 20,000 of them. Those with the same colour represents cells from the same type.

Scientists have created the most detailed gene map of the retina, providing insights into how the thin layer of cells at the back of eye sense light and send messages to the brain.

It is the first area of the eye to be mapped as part of the Human Cell Atlas Project – a global initiative to create reference maps of all human cells.

The new study, involving researchers from Australia, China, the US and the UK, was led by three Australians: Raymond Wong from the Centre for Eye Research Australia, Samuel Lukowski from the Institute for Molecular Bioscience, and Joseph Powell from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research,

The group examined the complex genetic sequences behind individual cells to develop a profile of all major cell types in the retina and the genes they “express” to function normally.

Cells mapped include photoreceptors, which sense light and allow people to see, the retinal ganglion cells, which transmit messages to the brain along the optic nerve, and other cells that support the function and stability of the retina.

The findings are published in the European Molecular Biological Organisation Journal.

  1. https://www.humancellatlas.org/
  2. https://www.embopress.org/doi/abs/10.15252/embj.2018100811
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