xTrimoGene: An Efficient and Scalable Representation Learner for Single-Cell RNA-Seq Data

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 36 (NeurIPS 2023) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


Jing Gong, Minsheng Hao, Xingyi Cheng, Xin Zeng, Chiming Liu, Jianzhu Ma, Xuegong Zhang, Taifeng Wang, Le Song


Advances in high-throughput sequencing technology have led to significant progress in measuring gene expressions at the single-cell level. The amount of publicly available single-cell RNA-seq (scRNA-seq) data is already surpassing 50M records for humans with each record measuring 20,000 genes. This highlights the need for unsupervised representation learning to fully ingest these data, yet classical transformer architectures are prohibitive to train on such data in terms of both computation and memory. To address this challenge, we propose a novel asymmetric encoder-decoder transformer for scRNA-seq data, called xTrimoGene$^\alpha$ (or xTrimoGene for short), which leverages the sparse characteristic of the data to scale up the pre-training. This scalable design of xTrimoGene reduces FLOPs by one to two orders of magnitude compared to classical transformers while maintaining high accuracy, enabling us to train the largest transformer models over the largest scRNA-seq dataset today. Our experiments also show that the performance of xTrimoGene improves as we scale up the model sizes, and it also leads to SOTA performance over various downstream tasks, such as cell type annotation, perturb-seq effect prediction, and drug combination prediction. xTrimoGene model is now available for use as a service via the following link: https://api.biomap.com/xTrimoGene/apply.