Although a primary objective of our journal is to publish high quality original research papers, MHR is committed to providing the reproductive community and beyond with insights into subjects as a whole. We have done this, for example, by presenting specific themes and special issues [recently series on Sperm competition (Ramm, 2014) and Mitochondria (St. John, 2015)]. This issue of MHR examines the potential impact of technological breakthroughs. Specifically, it focuses on the challenges and tremendous opportunities brought forward by the use of new methods to study early development.
Boiani and Cibelli (2016) provide an introduction to this special issue focused on single cell analysis in development. However, this is no ordinary introduction but a detailed and comprehensive one. Following a brief history of the subject, they outline key problems that require urgent attention and thus should focus our thoughts. Technological innovation is being deployed and made available to scientists at a phenomenal rate. With single cell analysis we need to reach beyond the description of tissue heterogeneity and include, for instance, the understanding of what heterogeneity means to the whole embryo. The advantages and potential opportunities that single cell analysis brings to addressing these questions are put into context with the challenges that need to be overcome with their use and future fine tuning. These include, but are not restricted to, the need to study single cells without losing sight of the embryo as a whole, in tandem with understanding the molecular and physiological signatures of single blastomeres and single embryos. Additionally of course, there is the impending problem of the analysis of complex data, e.g. ‘omics’, whose generation is no longer precluded by such small amounts of material as those offered by single cells, yet it requires special considerations that are unique to single cells.
These are very exciting times for reproductive science. Methodological developments such as single cell analysis are critical tools in our armoury. To a large degree, our discipline is ahead of the curve as we are well used to dealing with single cells. After all egg and sperm are being manipulated by hundreds of ART practitioners around the world every day of the week. Thus, we are well versed in issues such as cell heterogeneity which other disciplines are only just discovering. Moreover we have ideal functional assays to assess the impacts of this heterogeneity. Now, a key task is to utilize our collective experience to further our understanding of the biology of early development. We trust that this issue of MHR will act as impetus to galvanize these efforts.