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For the first time, our EMBO | EMBL Symposium will provide a forum for the emerging field of cell type and tissue origination in the single-cell genomics era. We will jointly discuss fundamental questions such as the origins of cell types in the evolution of multicellularity, their diversification in divergent animal lineages, and the molecular evolution of regulatory networks underlying the specification of cell types and tissues. One focus will be on the evolution of neuron type identity, and the cellular origins of the vertebrate cortex. We will also explore new computational approaches to unravel whole-body single-cell gene regulatory networks that underlie cell type diversification.