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The recent advent of methods for high-throughput single-cell molecular profiling has catalyzed a growing sense in the scientific community that the time is ripe to complete the 150-year-old effort to identify all cell types in the human body, by undertaking a Human Cell Atlas Project as an international collaborative effort. The aim would be to define all human cell types in terms of distinctive molecular profiles (e.g., gene expression) and connect this information with classical cellular descriptions (e.g., location and morphology). A comprehensive reference map of the molecular state of cells in healthy human tissues would propel the systematic study of physiological states, developmental trajectories, regulatory circuitry and interactions of cells, as well as provide a framework for understanding cellular dysregulation in human disease. Here we describe the idea, its potential utility, early proofs-of-concept, and some design considerations for the Human Cell Atlas.

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