The spatial information associated with gene expression is important for elucidating the context-dependent transcriptional regulation during development. Recently, high-resolution sampling approaches, such as RNA tomography or single-cell RNA-seq combined with fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH), have provided indirect ways to view global gene expression patterns in three dimensions. Now in situ sequencing technologies, such as fluorescent in situ sequencing (FISSEQ), are attempting to visualize the genetic signature directly in microscope images. This article will examine the basic principle of modern in situ and single-cell genetic methods, hurdles in quantifying intrinsic and extrinsic forces that influence cell decision-making, and technological requirements for making a visual map of gene regulation, form, and function. Successfully addressing these challenges will be essential for investigating the functional evolution of regulatory sequences during growth, development, and cancer progression. WIREs Syst Biol Med 2017, 9:e1369. doi: 10.1002/wsbm.1369 For further resources related to this article, please visit the WIREs website.
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