While measurements of RNA expression have dominated the world of single-cell analyses, new single-cell techniques increasingly allow collection of different data modalities, measuring different molecules, structural connections, and intermolecular interactions. Integrating the resulting multimodal single-cell datasets is a new bioinformatics challenge. Equally important, it is a new experimental design challenge for the bench scientist, who is not only choosing from a myriad of techniques for each data modality but also faces new challenges in experimental design. The ultimate goal is to design, execute, and analyze multimodal single-cell experiments that are more than just descriptive but enable the learning of new causal and mechanistic biology. This objective requires strict consideration of the goals behind the analysis, which might range from mapping the heterogeneity of a cellular population to assembling system-wide causal networks that can further our understanding of cellular functions and eventually lead to models of tissues and organs. We review steps and challenges toward this goal. Single-cell transcriptomics is now a mature technology, and methods to measure proteins, lipids, small-molecule metabolites, and other molecular phenotypes at the single-cell level are rapidly developing. Integrating these single-cell readouts so that each cell has measurements of multiple types of data, e.g., transcriptomes, proteomes, and metabolomes, is expected to allow identification of highly specific cellular subpopulations and to provide the basis for inferring causal biological mechanisms.
Keywords: gene regulatory network; inferrence; integration; integromics; multi-omics; multimodal.
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