Shipman lab develops a biological recorder of gene expression

The many behaviors, functions, and identities of cells are controlled, in part, by the expression of different genes—some genes for muscle cells, other genes for skin cells, and so on. But recording which genes are expressed at what time has always been a challenge for researchers.

A team led by Seth Shipman, PhD, faculty member in the UCSF Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, has developed a method for recording changes in gene expression over time.

Dubbed the Retro-Cascorder, this biological device records the genetic activity of cells into barcoded strands of DNA over the course of several days. Those DNA strands can then be decoded at a later date.

Shipman and Bhattarai-Kline

Shipman and Santi Bhattarai-Kline, PhD, developed a system to monitor gene expression over time.

“DNA is a flexible data storage medium in which you can encode whatever you want. It’s also easy to use it because it already exists within cells,” says Shipman, who is also an investigator in the Gladstone Institutes.

The Retro-Cascorder currently tracks just a few genes at a time, and can only record the order in which genes were turned on but not the time that elapsed between each event. The team is actively developing new methods to expand the system and adapt it for use in cell types other than bacteria.


Scientists Engineer DNA “Receipt Book” to Store Cells’ History (Gladstone Institutes)


School of Pharmacy, Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, PharmD Degree Program

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