On October 16, 2017, PST, the 38 projects to be funded by CZI (Chan Zuckerberg Initiative) as the first batch of projects in the Human Cell Atlas (HCA) program were announced. The importance of the HCA program is believed to be comparable to that of the human genome project (HGP). The project of Dr. Xuegong Zhang, professor of Tsinghua University, is the only project led by a Chinese scientist, selected from nearly 500 applications worldwide.
The Human Cell Atlas Project is a large international collaborative project initiated by CZI, founded by Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook and his wife Priscilla Chan. It is dedicated to create a set of reference maps of all cells of a healthy human being. The maps will include genomic, transcriptomic and epigenomic characteristics of various cell types, as well as their quantity, location and interrelationships, etc.
The current projects are one-year pilot-studies with the task of exploring how the entire project shall be carried out. The main task of these projects is to establish benchmarks for multiple technologies and tools needed for building the atlas. "It is the beginning of a grand plan and a very exciting time," said Zhang Xuegong.
From more than a decade ago, Dr. Zhang and his team began to focus their research on bioinformatics methods for transcriptome analyses and their applications on various types of transcriptomes. A series of bioinformatics methods have been developed for transcriptome analyses using RNA sequencing, which have been widely applied by many scientists in the world.
Single-cell sequencing of various types of human cells is at the core of the HCA program, where bioinformatics analysis plays a crucial role. Single-cell sequencing technology has developed very rapidly in recent years. The rapid development has greatly promoted the progress of entire field. But on the other hand, methods rushed for analyzing the generated data are lacking systematic and in-depth development. Dr. Zhang proposed in his project to systematically study the involved bioinformatics methods especially those for differential analysis and clustering. This is of crucial importance for the whole program.
The current batch of projects were selected among nearly 500 applications after being reviewed by a number of geneticists, genomics, molecular biologists, medical scientists, cell biologists, biochemists, systems biologists and physiologists, Dr. Zhang said that as the only team in China that has been selected, he hopes to live up to the expectations from the community, and hopes that this pilot project will make valuable contributions to this major international cooperative program and will be able to guide more Chinese teams to join the effort in the future.