Multiomics to Mechanisms Best Poster Awards

The EMBO|EMBL Symposium: Multiomics to Mechanisms: Challenges in Data Integration took place virtually 15 – 17 September 2021. With over 400 participants, this was the biggest multi-omics conference since it began in 2017. We had 96 posters presented virtually, and are excited to share the research from the three best poster prize winners. 

Identification of transcription factor signaling molecules by coupling gene expression and metabolomics

A portrait picture of Daniela Ledezma‑Tejeida
Daniela Ledezma‑Tejeida, ETH Zurich, Switzerland (Photo credit: Stefania Laddage)

Abstract

Bacteria need to adapt to changes in their environment in order to survive. Transcription factors (TFs) bind metabolites that signal such changes and in turn alter gene expression. Escherichia coli has the best characterized transcriptional regulatory network involving 300 predicted TFs, of which ~75% have a metabolite‑binding domain. However, the binding partners of only 95 TFs have been identified due to low-throughput of common in vitro identification methods. Here, we combined metabolomics and gene expression data obtained in vivo across several growth conditions to identify TF‑metabolite interactions of four TFs without a known binding partner: CdaR, CsgD, FlhDC and GadX. We have validated our method by accurately predicting the known binding partners of ArgR, TyrR and CysB, three highly studied TFs. The in vivo nature of our approach can not only identify new TF‑metabolite interactions but also provide insight into the most functionally relevant.

View Daniela’s poster

Towards topology‑based multi‑omics pathway enrichment and its application in toxicology

A portrait picture of Sebastian Canzler, Helmholtz‑Centre for Environmental Research
Sebastian Canzler, Helmholtz‑Centre for Environmental Research ‑ UFZ, Germany

Abstract

The call for an application of (multi‑)omics data in toxicology became highly prominent in recent years, since omics experiments are intended to generate comprehensive information on molecular changes in cells and tissues more quickly, more accurately, and with fewer resources than ever before. The associated hopes explicitly include the reduction of live animal testing and an increased number of analyzed substances that can be tested. Therein, multi‑omics data are essential to comprehensively infer mechanistic knowledge on molecular response pathways to subsequently guide and aid chemical risk assessment. However, currently available multi‑omics pathway enrichment methods struggle to cope with different aspects hampering their application in computational toxicology, e.g., the utilization of insufficient enrichment methods, missing support for time‑ and concentration resolved data, and restrictions on the pathway sources. Most approaches utilize a sequential data integration and thereby completely ignore the connections between different omics layers. With ToPaFC, we present the first step towards a consistent and simultaneous multi-omics-based pathway enrichment that accounts for those obstacles and explicitly takes the underlying pathway topology into account. Right now, we can deal with up to eight different pathway databases and two omics layers (trans/meta or prot/meta). The pathway topology is reflected in two different ways: i) the importance of a node (omics feature) is measured based on its connections and its relative localization within the pathway and ii) the influence of each node on the network is specified by the weight of its outgoing edges, whether they are inhibiting, neutral, or activating. With this integration of edge information along the pathway, our method inherently accounts for consistent molecular changes of the features. The derived node‑centered pathway representation is combined with measured multi‑omics features to calculate a topology‑based pathway fold change that accounts for consistent changes within the molecular response.

View Sebastian’s Poster

Computational approaches to scrutinize results from spatial proteomics of operable pancreatic cancer and neighboring tissue

A portrait picture of Ábel Szkalisity, University of Helsinki, Finland
Ábel Szkalisity, University of Helsinki, Finland

Abstract

The advance of laser‑microdissection technologies coupled with proteomics enables unprecedented insights into tissue proteomes. However, the limited availability of patient materials coupled with the high dimensional output of proteomics necessitates data integration across studies to safeguard the reliability of the results. We microdissected morphologically benign and neoplastic pancreas and surrounding stromal areas from 14 patients with early pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma and analyzed their protein compositions with nLC‑MS/MS. The results indicated downregulated digestive functions in the malignant exocrine tissue and lower metabolic activity in the stroma vs. exocrine pancreas. Intriguingly, the majority of the most significant proteins for survival originated from the morphologically benign exocrine regions, suggesting that these areas may harbor early, predisposing changes. To scrutinize this idea, we compared their proteomes to proteomics data of 12 healthy control pancreatic samples obtained from publications. The protein identification and quantification pipeline from the raw mass spectrometer files were standardized to minimize variation introduced by search engines or protein sequence databases. Altogether, we identified 7,099 proteins in 67 samples involving 5 tissue types from 2 experiments and 5 batches. We investigated two independent strategies for rendering the values comparable. First, batch effects within experiments were corrected for with ComBat and the abundances across experiments were aligned with housekeeping protein normalization. However, this approach required full observations, removing over 90% of the identified proteins from the analysis. Hence, our second approach involved applying Group Factor Analysis to directly extract factors that reveal relationships between the tissue types in our study without compromising the protein coverage. These approaches not only showed that our main results are independent of the data analysis pipeline but also implicated changes in the mRNA splicing machinery as important players in pancreatic cancer. By surveying 165 patients from The Cancer Genome Atlas we revealed that increased transcriptional complexity indeed associates with poor survival in this disease.

View Ábel’s Poster

Record attendance at New Approaches and Concepts in Microbiology

Written by event reporter Magdalena Wutkowska.

This year’s EMBO|EMBL Symposium: New Approaches and Concepts in Microbiology took place 7-9 July 2021. For the first time in its history, the meeting was held virtually, with a record of over 650 attendees from all over the world. The three day programme featured six sessions, 36 talks, discussion panels and countless posters showcasing the newest scientific advances in the field.

This was my second time reporting during a virtual conference organised by EMBL, the first one being the EMBO Workshop: Molecular Mechanisms in Evolution and Ecology. It is interesting to note, even though the two meetings started with quite different scopes and aims, over time they began to resemble one another. Both meetings welcomed topics in microbiology that use cutting-edge techniques to disentangle and unravel microorganisms’ intricate worlds. The two meetings followed a similar format, which included a fairly intuitive online platform with links to presentations, posters, chats and a variety of other information prepared by the organisers.

A table with a laptop, a thermos with coffee or tea and a notebook on a desk.
My setup for the symposium

Pre-symposium sessions

As part of New Approaches and Concepts in Microbiology, three special pre-symposium sessions explored transitioning to starting a lab, the nooks and crannies of publishing presented from the editor’s perspective and the future of scientific meetings in a post-pandemic world. The panelists shared many insightful ideas distilled from decades of experience in their work, and usually this type of knowledge is not so readily available, especially to early-career scientists.

From my personal perspective, the pre-symposium session on the future of scientific meetings was one of the most interesting, and is also a topic that will affect everyone in the scientific community. Gerlind Wallon representing EMBO shared results of a recent survey in which scientists were asked what they expected from meetings in the future and how did they perceive the online meetings that became a sudden reality for the scientific community, since the onset of the pandemic.

Scientific sessions

The scientific programme of the conference was fully packed with impressive and wide-ranging talks tackling most of the ‘big’ areas and pressing topics in microbiology. The first day was dedicated to systems biology, followed by the environment and antibiotics. The presentations on the second day dealt with regulation, signalling, protein machines and cell biology. The final day’s sessions covered novel approaches to study pathogenesis, infection, and microbiomes.

A common and reoccurring theme in many talks was the role of viruses in microbial systems and processes. The importance of that topic was strongly emphasised during the 1st day’s panel discussion on phage-microbe interactions, which  highlighted some new and exciting perspectives on viruses.

The highlights from the conference have been instantly reported on Twitter using #EESMicrobiology. If the data presented during a talk has already been published, there is usually a link to the associated paper(s) in the tweet.

Onsite to virtual to hybrid?

Pandemics brought many tragic events, but on the other hand, it gave us a chance to rethink many issues and come up with alternatives for our actions. Virtual meetings are perhaps one of the broadly acquired tools, which in my opinion should further be used to make science more available for people and lower our impact on the environment. Will the next “New Approaches and Concepts in Microbiology” be held in a hybrid format?

Unexpected perks of attending online meetings from a favourite place!

This blogpost was written by Magdalena Wutkowka, Postdoc in Anne Daebeler’s Group, Soil and Water Research Infrastructure, Biology Centre CAS, České Budějovice (CZ).

Learn more on how to become an event reporter for EMBL Events.

 

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.

Zooming into the PhD Symposium: “It’s about different scales of life, and not even just life on earth.”

Each year, a bunch of PhD students from EMBL join forces to organise a large symposium for their fellow PhD students across the globe. This year’s (virtual) PhD symposium is the 23rd of its kind. The Big Picture: Zooming into Life is taking place from 16 -17 December.

Around 30 first year PhD students are part of the organising committee for the symposium. Amandine and Dewi, both in Heidelberg, are two of the main organisers. Amandine is a joint PhD student at the University of Heidelberg (Kuner lab) and EMBL (Alexandrov lab)  on neuroinvasive cancer, and Dewi is working at EMBL in the Steinmetz lab, where she is working on developing a CRISPR/Cas9 screen in primary immune cells.

Dewi Moonen
Amandine Prats

How did the team come up with the theme of this symposium?

Amandine: “We wanted to have an interdisciplinary topic that is interesting for a lot of people. We all have such different research backgrounds, but it should be interesting for everyone. We tried to include more than just biology.”

Dewi: “I really like that this topic is about different scales of life, and not even just life on earth, we also have a talk about astrobiology.”

Amandine: “It is a very broad topic, but the talks themselves are not general. They are accessible, but they will be in-depth and connected to the bigger picture at the same time. We are hoping the talks will spark ideas and new collaborations.”

What are you personally excited about?

Dewi: “For the talks, amongst others, I am looking forward to Christoph Bock. His group performs interdisciplinary research at the interface of immunology, cancer and precision medicine, and develops new technologies to support this. This technology development is especially an interest of mine.”

Amandine: “We selected really great speakers for this symposium. Not just because of the research topics, but also because they are really good at giving talks. I am very enthusiastic about the astrobiologist Dr. Lynn Rothschild. It is not my field at all, and I never thought about it before, but I am very curious to find out more about bringing life to other planets.”

You are calling for abstracts for short talks and posters. What topics are you looking for?

Dewi: “This symposium is really made by and for PhD students, so we are giving PhD students the opportunity to share their research. We will have a virtual poster session and selected short talks, divided into different categories. It can be about any topic related to life science, but it would be great if you are able to place your research into the bigger picture.”

Can you tell us a little bit more about the programme elements?

Dewi: “We want the symposium to be interactive, so besides the talks, we are organising different workshops and social activities, like virtual lunches and coffee breaks. Because the organisers are all PhD students, the workshops reflect our interests. We have a career workshop and a scientific workshop on imaging. We also have a workshop on mental health that I am looking very much forward to.”

Amandine: “With regard to the workshop on mental health: it can be hard being a PhD-student, as we can be under a lot of stress. Not just due to the current pandemic, but also just in general. The pandemic just made it more visible.”

What was your experience with organising this virtual symposium?

Amandine: “In the beginning, we had to figure out a lot. Most of us have never met each other in real life due to the pandemic. We’ve never organised a large-scale event like this before. But it feels really good now that it is all coming together.”

Dewi: “I think working together in teams is going really well. We have eight different committees, but there is also overlap between them, so we stay connected and up to date.”

A group picture taken on Zoom, with the organisers of this years PhD Symposium. Around 20 people are on screen, with the visual of the symposium as their background.
The PhD Symposium Organising Committee

You have put a lot of effort and time into organising this symposium. When do you think it will be a success?

Dewi: “For me, it will be a success if the participants are actively engaged, and not just having their computers open and listening to the talks. We want to organise a truly interactive meeting.”  

Amandine: “I am hoping that people will talk to each other and make some longer-term connections, and maybe even collaborations.” 

The Big Picture – Zooming into Life takes place on 16 – 17 December 2021.
Submit your abstract by 10 October

To stay updated:
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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.