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Sixth single-cell symposium showcases diversity in cellular systems

Featuring wide-ranging talks from scientists, vets, and clinicians at all stages of their careers, the Single-Cell Symposium brings together people working on similar challenges in diverse systems.

11 May 2023

New insights into single-cell genomics and how this fast-moving field reveals the diversity of cells in complex living systems were discussed at the sixth Norwich Single-Cell Symposium, held at the Earlham Institute. 

Featuring wide-ranging talks from scientists, vets, and clinicians at all stages of their careers, the Single-Cell Symposium brings together people working on similar challenges in diverse systems – microbial, plant, human and animal – and gives them a chance to focus on the possible applications of single-cell genomics.

This year’s event brought together more than 80 people, from those who are curious about the applications of single-cell approaches to experts working at the forefront of the field.

Delegates were welcomed to the day-long event by the Institute’s Technical Development Group Leader, Dr Iain Macaulay, who co-organised this year’s symposium with David Monk, Professor of Developmental Epigenetics at the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Dr Iain Macaulay (right), Group Leader at the Earlham Institute and lead on single-cell research and platforms at EI
Dr Iain Macaulay, Group Leader at the Earlham Institute and single-cell lead

Exciting opportunities.

The event featured keynote speakers Dr Seung Yon (Sue) Rhee, Principal Investigator at the Carnegie Institution for Science, and Dr Detlev Arendt, Group Leader and Senior Scientist at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg.

Both speakers stressed the exciting opportunities and challenges single-cell research offers scientists in many fields of research.

“There are lots of different areas of research where single cell technologies could make a difference,” said Dr Rhee.

She described finding a single plant leaf contained sub-populations of cells that were immune to disease, as well as cells that were more susceptible.

“We never expected to find variation like this at the cellular level. It’s extremely exciting.”

And Dr Arendt added: “There are extraordinary possibilities and opportunities in examining variation at the cellular level.”

Dr Seung Yon (Sue) Rhee, keynote speaker at the single-cell symposium

Keynote Speaker Dr Seung Yon (Sue) Rhee

Dr Detlev Arendt, Keynote Speaker at the Symposium

Keynote Speaker Dr Detlev Arendt (left

Morning speakers included Dr Yang Wang, Postdoctoral Research Scientist at the Babraham Institute, who presented new approaches for single-cell multi-omics and epigenetic analysis in early lineage commitment in embryos.

He was followed by Dr Sarah Cooper, from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, who gave an account of her work linking transcriptomes to genotypes in single cells by using high-throughput single nucleotide variant genotyping in parallel with single-cell transcriptomics

Dr Fabio Marcuccio, Postdoctoral Research Associate from Imperial College London, discussed how information on gene expression changes in glioblastoma following treatment can be gained from taking tiny samples called nanobiopsies from living cells.    

Delegates also got a chance to see the Institute’s cutting-edge technology and capabilities first hand, with tours of the single-cell labs by Cellular Genomics Platform Manager Dr Andrew Goldson.

Selected speaker, Rasa Elmentaite, at the Single-Cell Symposium
Selected speaker, Fabio Marcuccio at the single-cell symposium
Speaker Leonie Luginbuehl from the University of Cambridge Plant Sciences department

Three of the speakers at the symposium, pictured from left to right: Dr Rasa Elmentaite from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, Dr Fabio Marcuccio from Imperial College London, and Dr Leonie Luginbuehl from the Plant Sciences Department at University of Cambridge.

Jaw-dropping methods.

The afternoon session was led by Professor Monk. 

He said: “I was really surprised at just how quick the area of single-cell biology is advancing, mostly thanks to innovative microfluidic and molecular technologies. 

“In just a few years single-cell sequencing has evolved from processing a handful of cells to millions simultaneously. It is important that such momentum is maintained, especially with regard to medical disciplines.” 

He described hearing numerous times during the symposium that unsupervised analyses of cell types and states allow for improved understanding of disease progression, providing new insights into clinical outcomes and patient stratification. 

Adding: “I really look forward to seeing if some of the jaw-dropping methods, such as repeated cytoplasmic biopsy and single-cell multiple histone profiling, can be routinely incorporated into single-cell profiling workflows.”  

In this session, Professor Charles ffrench-Constant, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Norwich Medical School at UEA, presented his work using single nucleus RNA sequencing to explore patient heterogeneity in progressive multiple sclerosis.

Dr Rasa Elmentaite from the Wellcome Sanger Institute gave an overview of her PhD work creating single-cell atlases of the human gut, prioritising cells involved in disease.

The heterogeneity and sub-clonal diversity of tumour cells associated with resistance and metastasis in ER+ breast cancer was presented by Dr Shefali Thakur from the Institute of Cancer Research.

She was followed by Dr Leonie Luginbuehl from the University of Cambridge, who presented on a single cell gene expression atlas of rice and sorghum shoots during photomorphogenesis, and Dr Hayley Bennett, from Genentech, who spoke on increasing throughput and sequencing flexibility in single-cell multiomics workflows.

Dr Claudia Buhigas, from UEA, presented on single cell multi-omics profiles and how defective genomic activation and epigenetic reprogramming affects arrest in human pre-implantation embryos.

And Dr Andrew Bell from the University of Glasgow presented data, generated in collaboration with the Earlham Institute, which he is using to define the organisational logic of the anterolateral system in mice. 

Symposium delegates were invited on a tour of the single-cell facilities at the Earlham Institute, led by Cellular Genomics Platform Manager Dr Andrew Goldson
Delegates were able to tour the single-cell facilities at the Earlham Institute

The event was closed by Dr Wilfried Haerty, Group Leader at the Earlham Institute, who is leading an ambitious new programme of research exploring genomic heterogeneity at the cellular level. This 5-year programme will rely heavily on the in-house expertise and infrastructure in single-cell genomics and analysis, as well as benefitting from a number of world-leading academic and industry collaborators.

Dr Emily Angiolini, Head of Advanced Training at the Earlham Institute and coordinator of the event, said: “It has been tremendous to return to our Single Cell Symposium in person.

“We had a fantastic line up of talks, all of which demonstrated how fast-paced the single cell field is and the resulting community ethos of the researchers working in related projects and technologies. 

“We were thrilled with the support from our sponsors and enjoyed a full day of engagement between audience and speakers.”

Dr Macaulay seconded this. 

He said: “It’s been great to hold the meeting in person again - it’s brilliant to see synergies emerge between different biological fields that are unifying around single-cell technologies. The diversity of topics is something really unique and fulfilling about our event. We are already looking forward to next year.” 

The Norwich Single-Cell Symposium was supported by the UEA School of Biological Sciences and The Company of Biologists. 

Event sponsors included Bio-Techne, BioSkryb Genomics, Cellenion, iotaSciences, LevitasBio, Jumpcode Genomics, PacBio, Parse Biosciences, Sphere Fluidics, Swift Analytical, and Vizgen.


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Delegates at the single-cell symposium browsing the research posters on display
Delegates at the single-cell symposium networking during the coffee break
Delegates at the single-cell symposium networking during the coffee break
Delegates at the single-cell symposium networking during the coffee break
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Amy Lyall

Scientific Communications and Outreach Officer