Meet the Trainer – Jonathan Manning

PHOTO: Jonathan Manning

The Introduction to RNA-seq and Functional Interpretation course (21 – 25 February 2022) is now open for applications and we thought we would introduce you to one of the course trainers, Jonathan Manning.

Jonathan is a Bioinformatician in the Gene Expression group. His role is to expand capacity for single-cell RNA-seq analysis, the Expression Atlas resource, in dialogue with the Human Cell Atlas project. Jon gives us his tips for when looking for scientific training and some inside information on what he would be if he wasn’t a Bioinformatician.

What is your research focus and why did you choose to become a scientist?

My answer here is going to be awkward, in that I don’t have a research focus! Much of my career has been as a ‘service’ Bioinformatician working in various bioscience institutes performing custom analysis for a variety of different experiment types in different biological fields. In my current role at EMBL-EBI I build and maintain RNA-seq pipelines we run the same way over a large number of experiments. In both cases, I use the outputs of other people’s research (tools as well as data) to produce the best results I can for the questions at hand.

I actually started out in Biochemistry due to a fascination with the molecular machinery of life. But I discovered early on that the lab was not for me, and I’ve been on the ‘dry’ side of things ever since.

Where do you see this field heading in the future?

In common with many other fields, machine learning and artificial intelligence will play progressively bigger roles in this field in the coming years, with ‘Big Tech’ companies such as Google having ever greater involvement. I’m sure this will be a double-edged sword, and people such as myself will have to run to keep up, but there’s no denying the potential of these techniques and I foresee some exciting results.

How has training influenced your career? 

I’d say my early Bioinformatics training (a Masters by Research and PhD after that) was pretty pivotal for me, setting me on a whole new path. After that my training was more incremental, for example, some introductory RNA-seq analysis similar to that offered at EMBL-EBI, followed up with a lot of self-teaching.

What is your number one tip for people looking for scientific training?

Be focused, choose courses that are related to your immediate objectives, and have clear goals about what you want to get out of the training. If you don’t have ways to immediately apply and expand what you’ve learned then the training quickly fades. I often find it more useful to do training only once I’ve tried to do something myself, so that I know which bits are tricky for me and what questions I need to get answers for.

If you weren’t a scientist, what would you be?

I’d really love to study historical linguistics, an interest I’ve picked a bit late in the day. I also learned to dance a bit over the last several years, maybe I’m a professional dancer in another universe where I started earlier!


Interested in this course? Apply by 12 November 2021

For more upcoming events on cancer research take a look at our event listing.

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Meet the Trainer – Varsha Kale

PHOTO: Varsha Kale

Meet Varsha Kale, a Bioinformatician in the Finn team: Microbiome Informatics at EMBL-EBI and one of the trainers at the EMBL Course: Metagenomics Bioinformatics (08 – 12 November 2021).

We virtually sat down with Varsha and quizzed her on where she thinks the field of Metagenomics is heading in the future; and some inside information on what you can expect from the course.

What is your research focus and why did you choose to become a scientist?

Using metagenomics to characterise the chicken and salmon gut microbiome and its functions.

I enjoyed learning about bacteria and how they thrived in various environments. This opened a world of different microbes from symbiotic, commensal to pathogenic and highly resistant. It was exciting! When working in a lab, we would receive pre-analysed sequencing data from bioinformaticians. My mentors at the time were supportive to indulge my curiosity as to how the analysis was performed and hence I chose to study bioinformatics. At EMBL-EBI I have the opportunity to learn about new tools and analysis methods frequently.

Where do you see this field heading in the future?

The continued expansion of novel genomes and annotations deposited in public archives will give us more and deeper insight into some elusive environments. Additionally, as statistical modelling becomes more popular, many of the methods we use for annotation are adopting machine learning techniques. The challenges will be the integration of different data types, judging the optimal cutoffs for accurate annotation, and continuing to ensure that all of these new types are easily available through community-adopted public repositories.

How has training influenced your career?

I have been lucky to have opportunities to attend training courses which helped tremendously with understanding the basics of a new subject. Also, a field such as metagenomics is progressing so fast that training gives a great snapshot of the recent updates and methods that others are using for similar research.

What is your number one tip for people looking for scientific training?

Keep up to date with upcoming courses which are interesting to you. Twitter or LinkedIn can be useful for this, or even the webpages of some of your favourite institutions. However, I found that asking colleagues and peers about training courses they have attended is most informative.

If you weren’t a scientist, what would you be?

To be honest, I went home one day from school and startled my parents with the news that bacteria are the new “cool” – so I’m not sure that I would have done something else! I enjoy singing and it might have been fun and challenging to pursue that.

Which methods and new technologies will be addressed in the course?

There is currently a lot of interest in generating metagenome assembled genomes (MAGs) from microbiome data, so we will work through this process including potential tools you might use for the various steps, as well as things to consider in controlling the quality of your data. An introduction to MGnify will also highlight the specialised pipelines used to analyse different types of microbiome data: amplicon, WGS reads, and assemblies.

What are the highlights of the course?

The course will give an overview of metagenomic data analysis including, browsing public data, quality control, and assembly of sequenced metagenomes, tools, and methods to analyse metagenomic data and submission to public archives. There will be a mixture of live and recorded talks, practicals, and Q&A’s with lots of opportunities for discussion. A personal highlight is the chance to learn about the research projects of others attending the course!


Interested in this course? Apply by 03 September.

For more upcoming events on cancer research take a look at our event listing.

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Celebrating 10 years of Chromatin and Epigenetics

Our upcoming EMBL Conference: Chromatin and Epigenetics is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year! Although this year’s conference will be very different in format (yup, you guessed right: virtual!), the topics to be discussed will be as exciting as always.

We spoke to Asifa Akhtar and Geneviève Almouzni, the scientific organisers who have been there since the beginning of this conference series. Read on to find out what inspired them to organise this event in the first place, and what highlights can be expected at the virtual conference!

The Chromatin and Epigenetics conference is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. How did it all start and how has it developed over the years?

GA: I was part of the original organisation committee when it started — 20 years ago already! A long journey already… The meeting actually started with the wish to give credit to my Postdoc mentor Dr. Alan Wolffe who had tragically passed away and was very active in the field. He was coined the “champion of Epigenetics” back then… You can see his picture in the corner of the conference image.

When I started my lab, he used to tease me about having a conference in Europe on a field that was just starting to take off. The fact is that since then it has become a major gathering of people in the field, including those actively engaged in the EC funded Network of Excellence — first the Epigenome and EpiGeneSys networks which expanded towards a broader community, including the LifeTime initiative and many friends from the 4DNucleome!  Undoubtedly, research over the past two decades has been incredibly active, leading to the deciphering of chromatin-based mechanisms, multi-scale genome organisation and the uncovering of the role of epigenetics in various human disorders with an increasing interest in studying the influence of age, environment, life style and disease states. I am really excited to hear about the latest news…

AA: I was part of the original organisation team, and being located at EMBL meant that I have been part of all the nitty gritty deals of organising this conference ever since. We have had a series of outstanding co-organisers on board, which also developed the breadth of the meeting over the last 20 years. We have kept up with the pace of the field, and this meeting is a major biennial scientific event in the chromatin and epigenetics field. The location at EMBL has been fantastic, with all the support and infrastructure available to run a big meeting like this. It continues to be a pleasure to organise this conference, and I am excited about all the possibilities that the virtual format will bring.

What inspired you to organise this conference?

GA: This meeting is dear to my heart, and it has surely brought together a wonderful community in Europe that is well linked with people worldwide. Also, from the inception we wanted to engage younger people in the organisation and serve the community. It has a unique spirit — it is collegial and friendly, and a place where new collaborations arise — and a growing network! The fact is that people always presented their most advanced work and unpublished data, thereby offering opportunities to discuss science in the making. We hope that the virtual conference version this year will retain this special touch.

AA: Alan Wolffe was a great chromatin biologist and his sudden passing took many of us by surprise, and left great sadness. He was a wonderful mentor and was interested in young scientists, a quality which I had always admired. Co-incidentally my husband was a postdoc in Alan’s lab, just like Genevieve. In fact, Alan’s plan was to visit him during his trip that eventually led to the tragedy. Co-organising the memorial workshop in his memory was an honour and in the long run a tremendously important decision, as this meeting became a focal point for chromatin biologists and epigeneticists to meet in Europe and share the wonders of the latest science we are all doing. The chromatin and epigenetics conference originated from initial event and has grown stronger over the years.

 Could you share what the focus and highlights of this year´s conference will be?

AA: The 10th conference in a series of meetings is a really memorable event and celebrating this during a global pandemic is a major challenge. We strive for excellence and this meeting will deliver many highlights and thrilling science. I very much hope that it will bring us together to appreciate the importance and perseverance of basic science, and that we celebrate coming together even in a virtual setting and show that we are dynamic and flexible, come what may…

GA: This year the session topics cover: Heterochromatin and HP1, developmental epigenetics, chromatin regulation, nucleosomes structure and function, transcription and chromatin defects and diseases, nuclear architecture as well as chromatin and RNA modifications. This is a very exciting program with both live-streamed invited speakers and selected short talks with Q&As, as well as digital poster sessions. We will also hold meet the speakers session along with some other surprises…

Among our speakers, Caroline Dean will tell us about cold-induced epigenetic switching in plants, Karen Adelman will discuss regulation of transcription elongation in development and diseases, Luciano di Croce the advances in the distinct role of Polycomb in stem biology and cancer, Bob Kingston on chromatin compaction and phase separation in epigenetic control of development, Danny Reinberg about Polycomb, inheritance and disease, Anja Groth will speak about chromatin replication and epigenome maintenance, Peter Becker will talk about how cooperation, competition and combination contribute to the targeting of the X chromosome and its regulation, Giacomo Cavalli and Allistair Boettiger about the 3D genome folding, Rick Young on Nuclear condensates, Tom Muir on chemical approaches and a Keynote by Wolf Reik on ways to exploit multiple single cell omics to unravel early embryo development.

Interested in this conference? Register by 19 April.

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Meet the Trainers – Tobias Rausch and Alexey Larionov

On the occasion of World Cancer Day (4 February), we meet two of the trainers of the virtual EMBL Course: Cancer Genomics  (17 – 21 May 2021) – Tobias Rausch and Alexey Larionov.

PHOTO: EMBL Photolab

Tobias Rausch (TR) received his PhD in “Computational Biology and Scientific Computing” at the International Max Planck Research School in 2009. He then started to work at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) as a bioinformatician. His primary research interests are population and cancer genomics, structural variant discovery and omics computational methods development. (https://github.com/tobiasrausch).

 

PHOTO: Alexey Larionov

Initially educated as a clinical oncologist in Russia, Alexey Larionov (AL) switched to  experimental oncology upon completion of his PhD. Initially he worked as a postdoctoral researcher in Edinburgh University studying transcriptomics of breast cancer, with a focus on markers and mechanisms of endocrine response and resistance.  Working with data-rich methods (qPCR, micro-arrays, NGS) he became interested in data analysis and switched to bioinformatics. Since completing his MSc in Applied Bioinformatics, Alexey has worked as a bioinformatician at Cambridge University, focusing on NGS data analysis and heritable predisposition to cancer. See http://larionov.co.uk for more details.

What is your research focus?

TR: Computational genomics.

ALHeritable predisposition to cancer

Why did you choose to become a scientist?

TR: When I started at EMBL I saw myself as a software engineer who loves to design, develop and implement algorithms to solve data analysis problems. With the advent of high-throughput sequencing, this engineering background gave me a competitive edge as a data scientist, and that’s how it happened!

ALIt was interesting…

Where do you see this field heading in the future?

TR: Nowadays cancer genomics is a data-driven team science, but it is a long way from obtaining data to obtaining insight. In the age of analytics we all have to wrap our heads around multi-domain data with spatio-temporal resolution, ideally in real-time.

AL: I assume that the question is about translational cancer research in general.  I expect that in the near future the field needs better integration of different types of biological data and better collection of relevant clinical data. 

How has training influenced your career?

TR: I think training is essential to get you started. Training is like a kind person who takes your hand and guides you through unknown territory. It goes along with mentorship and I was lucky enough to have good training and good mentorship already as a student.

ALSince my initial clinical and bioinformatics degrees, cancer research has changed so much that I would not be able to even understand current papers if I hadn’t taken regular in-depth training in different aspects of computing and bioinformatics. 

How has cancer research changed over the years?

TR: I hope I am still too young to answer that :-). I leave that question for Bert Vogelstein or Robert A. Weinberg.

ALCancer research has become much more complex and powerful because of the development of new methods; specifically significant progress in bioinformatics, sequencing and human genomics.

Which methods and new technologies will be addressed in the course?

TR: We try to give an overview of how high-throughput sequencing can be applied in cancer genomics. We cover a range of technologies (short-read and long-read sequencing), data types (RNA-Seq, DNA-Seq and ATAC-Seq) and data modalities (bulk and single-cell sequencing), and last but not least – we take a deep dive into cancer genomics data analysis.

ALIn my sections of the course, I will discuss established methods for the analysis of bulk RNA sequencing, focusing on differential gene expression.  Then I will touch on the new methods being developed for the analysis of long-read RNA sequencing.  

What learning outcomes should participants expect to take home after the course?

TR: To come back to my previous answer: I hope after the course, cancer genomics won’t be an unknown territory anymore for the participants. I hope we pave the way and then it’s up to the students to make something out of it.

ALIn my section of the course, participants will learn:

1) Bioinformatics algorithms and tools for QC, alignment, and gene expression measurement in bulk short-read RNA-sequencing data

2) Current approaches to analysis of long-read RNA-seq data, comparing the Oxford Nanopore and PacBio sequencing technologies.


Interested in this course? Apply by 26 February.

For more upcoming events on cancer research take a look at our event listing.

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CABANA – not just a shelter from the sun

You may have heard the name CABANA floating around the EMBL training programme, but you may not know exactly what it is. Here we present a handy guide to the project, its origins and where it stands now almost three years on from its launch.

PHOTO: CABANA logo
PHOTO: CABANA logo

CABANA is a capacity strengthening project for bioinformatics in Latin America. It aims to accelerate the implementation of data-driven biology in the region by creating a sustainable capacity-building programme focusing on three challenge areas – communicable disease, sustainable food production and protection of biodiversity.

Want to know more about the project? Check out this video from the CABANA consortium.

With just over a year left of the project, funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) – part of the UK Aid Budget, the capacity building element of the project is ramping up. A big part of the project is running a series of training events for the Latin American audience, something that began with the centralised events team within EMBL-EBI, but is now increasingly being operated in Latin America by the partners themselves.

CABANA has virtualised its training programme for the rest of 2020 and has committed to a fully virtual 2021 programme too. Check out the latest events on offer, or visit the new virtual training portal for the e-learning options.

Follow the CABANA project on Twitter or Facebook for the latest news and updates.

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