Title Talk: The molecular atlas – transcriptomes from tissues to single cells.


What are the molecular processes that give rise to a phenotype? How do we model the convergence of genetic and environmental variables on the expression of a trait? While this remains the major motivation of the genomics era, the last two decades of ‘omics research might be summarised as the generation of increasingly sophisticated molecular catalogues. Successive consortia have generated catalogues of genome sequence (The Human Genome Project), gene architecture and activity (FANTOM), and identified gene regulatory regions (ENCODE). Each large-scale program has attracted a degree of hype around the impact and importance of the catalogue, with an equal degree of criticism, because it is hard to argue that a catalogue of molecules equates to functional or mechanistic insight.

Nevertheless, we are still surveying genome activity at a relatively superficial depth, both in terms of the molecules able to be surveyed, and in terms of the resolution and specificity of the cellular systems that are used. Current catalogues are intrinsically biased by the platform used to capture information, and there is a paucity of tools available to integrate different types of molecular measurement, even if generated in the same cell type. Few cell types have been surveyed to any depth, and even fewer across different donors.

Here I describe approaches aimed at mining these resources, testing how generalizable the observations made from these studies are, and how we can leverage these various molecular atlases to understanding the specific networks underlying cell behaviour and tissue function.

Christine Wells


Professor Christine Wells, Centre for Stem Cell Systems, University of Melbourne

Professor Christine Wells is the Founding Director of the University of Melbourne Centre for Stem Cell Systems. She is the deputy program leader for Stem Cells Australia, an ARC funded $21M special research initiative to bring together leading Australian stem cell scientists. Christine is a genome biologist interested in tissue injury and repair. She leads a program of research in biological data integration and visualization for the stem cell community, including method development leading to gene discovery and characterization of stem cell subsets and innate immune cells.
Professor Wells has published over 92 scientific journal articles, in the leading scientific literature, including landmark studies in mapping gene architecture and function. She has developed several open source software programs, including the Stemformatics.org stem cell collaboration resource, which has a global audience, and which hosts the largest compendium of curated stem cell data. This resource is used to generate definitive molecular signatures of stem cell subsets and their differentiated progeny, including accurate classification of MSC from different tissues. Over the last 16 years, Christine has worked with the Japanese genome consortium, FANTOM, led from the RIKEN Center for Life Science Technologies (CLST), Yokohama, on discovery of the genetic toolkit used by cells and tissues during development, growth, aging and disease.

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