Communications Biology 4(1) ( 2021)
Progress in sequencing, microfluidics, and analysis strategies has revolutionized the granularity at which multicellular organisms can be studied. In particular, single-cell transcriptomics has led to fundamental new insights into animal biology, such as the discovery of new cell types and cell type-specific disease processes. However, the application of single-cell approaches to plants, fungi, algae, or bacteria (environmental organisms) has been far more limited, largely due to the challenges posed by polysaccharide walls surrounding these species’ cells. In this perspective, we discuss opportunities afforded by single-cell technologies for energy and environmental science and grand challenges that must be tackled to apply these approaches to plants, fungi and algae. We highlight the need to develop better and more comprehensive single-cell technologies, analysis and visualization tools, and tissue preparation methods. We advocate for the creation of a centralized, open-access database to house plant single-cell data. Finally, we consider how such efforts should balance the need for deep characterization of select model species while still capturing the diversity in the plant kingdom. Investments into the development of methods, their application to relevant species, and the creation of resources to support data dissemination will enable groundbreaking insights to propel energy and environmental science forward.