Is it possible to reconstruct an accurate cell lineage using CRISPR recorders?
Cell lineages provide the framework for understanding how multicellular organisms are built and how cell fates are decided during development. Describing cell lineages in most organisms is challenging, given the number of cells involved; even a fruit fly larva has 50,000 cells and a small mammal has more than 1 billion cells. Recently, the idea of using CRISPR to induce mutations during development as heritable markers for lineage reconstruction has been proposed and trialled by several groups. While an attractive idea, its practical value depends on the accuracy of the cell lineages that can be generated by this method. Here, we use computer simulations to estimate the performance of this approach under different conditions. Our simulations incorporate empirical data on CRISPR-induced mutation frequencies in Drosophila. We show significant impacts from multiple biological and technical parameters - variable cell division rates, skewed mutational outcomes, target dropouts and different mutation sequencing strategies. Our approach reveals the limitations of recently published CRISPR recorders, and indicates how future implementations can be optimised to produce accurate cell lineages.