RNA Featured Researcher – Dawen Cai, Cell & Developmental Biology, and Biophysics

Dawen Cai, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Cell and Developmental Biology, Medical School
Biophysics, LS&A
Affiliated with Neuroscience Graduate Program, Medical School

Cai Lab
Michigan Expert


  • What is the role of RNA in your research?
    We use scRNAseq to identify transcription factors that play critical roles in determining neuronal subtypes.
  • Is there a layman image to explain your research?

    Image shows genetic labeling of the type-II neuroblast and optic lobe lineages (white) in one hemisphere of the larval Drosophila brain. We generate targeted scRNA-seq datasets and combine in silico and in situ analysis to identify marker genes that specify cells derived from these two origins. mRNA in situ staining shows that mamo (yellow) and bi (magenta) are in the optic lobe derived cells, but dati (green) and lncRNA:cherub (cyan) are not.
  • Who/what brought you to science? 
    Curiosity about how things work.
  • What brought you to the University of Michigan?
    Graduated as a Ph.D. student in Biophysics
  • What advice would you give to students who’d like to get more involved in research? 
    Keep asking “why.”
  • Are there any opportunities for students to engage in your projects, currently or in the future? 
    Our lab has multiple positions opening to PhD students and postdoc fellows.

    • What skills would they need?
      General wet-lab and/or animal behavior training. Bioinformatics and/or quantitative image processing skills are desired.
    • What could they expect to learn?
      Interdisciplinary wet/dry lab skills, grant/paper writing, presentation, and critical thinking.
  • What profession other than your own would you enjoy, or what is your favorite hobby? 

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