Mark Zuckerberg Wants to Map Every Cell in the Human Body

A cell atlas could map out hundreds of different cells to help with disease research.
November 3, 2016, 2:39pm

The human body is made up of hundreds of types of cells—possibly thousands—but no one has fully mapped each of these unique cell types. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg wants to change that.

Mark and Priscilla Zuckerberg recently created the Chan Zuckerberg BioHub, a research organization dedicated to the simple and curious task of curing all diseases within about 100 years, as Motherboard reported last month. One of its primary initiatives is the Cell Atlas.

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BioHub plans to create this map of human cells by using a few methods to understand how cells differ: most notably genomic sequencing and targeted genomic alteration (better known as CRISPR).

This would allow scientists to categorize different types of cells and eventually create an entire atlas of the human body's cell structure and composition. By understanding all of these cells better, researchers will hopefully have a road map toward better understanding how certain drugs affect each of these cells.

"After we have isolated various cell types, we can methodically annotate the Atlas by labeling or "tagging" the different types of proteins found in each cell, which are what genes produce to control a wide range of bodily functions," BioHub states on its website. "These tags are tiny fluorescent molecules that glow when viewed with a fluorescent microscope."

The organization is working with experts from Stanford, UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco on the first wave of research.

In his September announcement, Zuckerberg didn't state a precise amount he'd dedicate toward cell mapping. He did say he and his wife would dedicate billions to curing diseases in general.

Read More: There's One Problem With Mark Zuckerberg's Plan to Solve All Diseases

Meanwhile, the Zuckerbergs also promised to dedicate 99 percent of their Facebook shares to charity and stated they'd give $3 billion over a decade to their philanthropy organization, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

"Remember, this is a long term effort. We plan to invest billions of dollars over decades," he wrote. "It will take years for the first tools to be developed, and then years after that before they are used to cure diseases. This is hard and we need to be patient, but it's important."

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