Featured Profile: Dr. Sarah Teichmann, FMedSci FRS
Updated: Feb 3
Sarah’s remarkable career has spanned several branches of biology and computational biology, including studying how proteins fold and interact with one another, how gene expression is regulated in cells, and what genes are expressed in particular cell types, especially immune cells [1, 2]. Throughout her career, Sarah has used her skills and knowledge in several different fields of biology and computational biology to combine computational and experimental work, often creatively integrating several different branches of bioinformatics to do novel and fundamental research in biology and immunology [4,5,6].
Sarah’s work has resulted in several awards and prizes, including the 2015 European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) Gold Medal . This award recognizes outstanding contributions to life sciences by young scientists and was awarded to Sarah for her use of “computational and experimental methods to better understand genomes, proteomes, and evolution” [1, 5, 6, 7].
Link: Q&A with Sarah Teichmann
Research and Educational Background
Sarah started programming during her bachelor’s degree at Cambridge in 1996, where her project involved analysing the nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) structures of a protein called Ras . Through her bachelor’s degree, she was able to take maths, physics, chemistry and biology courses at a high level, which helped set a foundation for the rest of her career in computational biology .
While she was still an undergraduate student, she was inspired to pursue computational biology after reading a 1992 commentary by her future PhD supervisor, Dr. Cyrus Chothia, which excited her about uncovering general principles in biology . She became convinced that computational biology and biological datasets could provide the necessary tools for understanding underlying principles of biology . At the time, computational biology was not particularly common or fashionable, but she chose to follow her instincts and pursue a field she felt passionate and excited about .
Relevant: What is single-cell RNA sequencing?
She therefore pursued a PhD at the University of Cambridge, where her work focused on linking “protein evolution to newly sequence genomic data” [3, 4]. There she was mentored by her supervisor, Dr. Cyrus Chothia, whose group at the time consisted of three PhD students . Cyrus was very involved in their research and would check in with his group members daily . While this was an unusual mentorship style, it positively influenced Sarah, as she experienced a complete dedication to the research project and developed a passion for an interactive way of doing science . During her PhD, Sarah published an impressive 10 papers .
After her PhD, Sarah completed a postdoc position in Professor Dame Janet Thornton’s group from 2000-2001 . There she experienced a very different research atmosphere from her PhD, as the group was made up of about 40 people, doing many different projects and employing several different techniques, which Sarah found very inspiring and exciting . Being in a large research environment allowed Sarah the chance to be fairly independent and pursue the research she was interested in, which was a great experience and set her on the path to setting up her own group .
Sarah started her own group at the impressively young age of 26 at the Medical Research Council (MRC) Laboratory of Molecular Biology in 2001 [3, 5]. In 2013, she became a joint faculty member at the EMBL-European Bioinformatics Institute and the Wellcome Sanger Institute . In 2016, she co-founded the Human Cell Atlas initiative and was appointed Head of the Cellular Genetics Programme at the Sanger Institute, where she recruited new faculty who focused on ‘cell atlas’ technologies [1, 4, 5].
In addition to co-leading the Human Cell Atlas consortium, Sarah leads a research group that combines cutting edge experimental and computational techniques to understand human health, development and disease [2, 4]. The highly interdisciplinary group comes from several different countries and is currently made up of 23 members who combine experimental work with a number of bioinformatics areas including structural biology and single-cell genomics to study immune system function [2, 4, 5]. In addition to pioneering the use of high-throughput single cell transcriptomics, Sarah’s group was the first to use a microfluidics robot for “high-throughput single cell RNA-sequencing” . Her group also developed powerful bioinformatics methods for analysing such high-throughput single-cell data .
In addition to her research and scientific career, Sarah is an advocate for women in science, and has talked about ways of improving the work distribution of men and women in science through policies such as extending paternal leave. She is also an advocate for diversity and inclusion in science [1,4,5].
Sarah’s career has been marked by her passion for science and research, and by her collaborative attitude, with her group members, peers, and research institutes. In addition to her research career, she enjoys spending time with her two daughters and the rest of her family. She also loves sports and team activities, and cycles to and from her work at the Sanger everyday.
Sarah: “Follow your heart and work on things you are excited about and enjoy. Life is too short—and academic careers too unpredictable—to settle for anything less. Try to work with people who are reasonable and considerate of others, yet driven and focused, and generous in investing time and resource to projects and careers of lab members and colleagues.” 
Sarah has been an author on over 350 papers with over 38,000 citations. A full list of her publications can be found at: https://scholar.google.co.uk/citations?user=ZMEr7wIAAAAJ&hl=en.
The following are some highlighted papers related to work covered in this profile that might be interesting to readers:
1. Vento-Tormo, R., Efremova, M., Botting, R.A., Turco, M.Y., et al. (2018) Reconstructing the human maternal-fetal interface during early pregnancy using single cell transcriptomics. Nature 563 347-353. Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-018-0698-6 .[Teichmann group] 2. Vieira Braga, F.A., Kar, G., Berg, M., Carpaij, O.A., Polanski, K., et al. (2019) A cellular census of healthy lung and asthmatic airway wall identifies novel cell states in health and disease. Nature Medicine 25 1153-1163. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31209336/. [Teichmann group]
3. Hagai, T., Chen, X., Miragaia, R.J., Rostom, R., Gomes, T., et al. (2018) Gene expression variability across cells and species shapes innate immunity. Nature, in press. Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-018-0657-2 [Teichmann group]
4. Natan, E., Endoh, T., Haim-Vilmovsky, L., Flock, T., Chalancon, et al. (2018) Cotranslational protein assembly imposes evolutionary constraints on homomeric proteins. Nat Struct Mol Biol., 25, 279-288. Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41594-018-0029-5 [Teichmann group]
1. Résumé, Sarah Teichmann, 2021
2. Sanger.ac.uk. 2021. Teichmann Group - Wellcome Sanger Institute. [online] Available at: https://www.sanger.ac.uk/group/teichmann-group/.
3. Sanger.ac.uk. 2021. Teichmann, Sarah - Wellcome Sanger Institute. [online] Available at: https://www.sanger.ac.uk/person/teichmann-sarah/.
4. Dhillon, P., 2015. In conversation with Sarah Teichmann. [online] FebsOnline. Available at: https://febs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/febs.14806.
5. Pain, E., 2015. Harnessing computer power to understand biology. [online] Science | AAAS. Available at: https://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2015/07/harnessing-computer-power-understand-biology.
6. Bradnam, K., 2015. 101 questions with a bioinformatician #33: Sarah Teichmann — ACGT. [online] ACGT. Available at: http://www.acgt.me/blog/2015/9/3/101-questions-with-a-bioinformatician-33-sarah-teichmann.
7. Gaskell, L., 2015. The unstoppable Sarah Teichmann on programing, motherhood, and protein complex assembly. [online] Crosstalk.cell.com. Available at: http://crosstalk.cell.com/blog/sarah-teichmann-on-programming-motherhood-and-complex-assembly.
8. Marx, V., 2016. Sarah Teichmann. [online] Nature Methods. Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/nmeth.3808.