Dawn of the single-cell era

22 September 2018
Novel technologies allow the genetic profiling of every single cell within a tissue sample, whole organ or even complete organism. This is quickly revolutionizing our knowledge of biological systems across distinct research fields. No wonder many VIB groups have moved to using single cell techniques which have several advantages over earlier methods.

We ourselves recently experienced that using single cell sequencing rather than previous bulk sequencing methods, was crucial to correctly identify the critical role of ZEB2 in macrophages (page 14). Having originally performed bulk analysis for this project, we learnt our lesson about the benefits of single cell technologies, even when homogeneity is assumed. This strengthens our conviction to focus efforts on these technologies going forward. A conviction shared with many VIB colleagues.

VIB groups are actively contributing to the single-cell revolution. In this edition of VIBnews you can find a tour de force from the Stein Aerts lab who provided the first single-cell atlas of the entire fly brain during aging (page 10), from Diether Lambrechts and Bernard Thienpont who sequenced 52,698 single cells from 5 different lung tumors generating a catalogue of more than 50 cell subtypes (page 14), from the group of Jean-Christophe Marine who investigated the presence of drug-tolerant malignant cells responsible for disease relapse during anti- cancer therapies (page 12) and from the Jan Cools group whose research led to a better understanding of oncogene cooperation (page 14). Don’t forget how lucky we are to have great bio-informaticians within the VIB Bioinformatics Core, but also in the teams of Yvan Saeys and Stein Aerts, who are developing algorithms to analyze and mine these fascinating datasets.

The expertise in single cell technologies at VIB is attracting significant interest from international consortia and private companies, such as the LifeTime FET Flagship consortium and the Human Cell Atlas Consortium (page 13). And there is of course the Single Cell Accelerator program at VIB (pages 4 till 9), headed by the VIB Tech Watch team with many VIB PI’s involved and with Janssen Pharmaceutica as the first company to plug into this initiative (page 16). Collaboration within VIB will be key to develop the strongest protocols to be used
by many different teams to solve their unique biological questions.

Thanks to all these research efforts and initiatives, VIB will definitely remain at the forefront of single cell research with access to state-of-the-art technologies for all VIB groups. Clearly, this is just the beginning and exciting times lie ahead for VIB and single cell technologies!

Charlotte Scott & Martin Guilliams,
VIB-UGent Center for Inflammation Research
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