Expression profiling of single cells can yield insights into cell specification, cellular differentiation processes, and cell type-specific responses to environmental stimuli. Recent work has established excellent tools to perform genome-wide expression studies of individual cell types, even if the cells of interest occur at low frequency within an organ. We review the advances and impact of gene expression studies of rare cell types, as exemplified by recently gained insights into the development and function of the angiosperm female gametophyte. The detailed transcriptional characterization of different stages during female gametophyte development has significantly helped to improve our understanding of cellular specification or cell-cell communication processes. Next-generation sequencing approaches-used increasingly for expression profiling-will now allow for comparative approaches that focus on agriculturally, ecologically or evolutionarily relevant aspects of plant reproduction.