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Penn Engineering 2023-24 Heilmeier Faculty Award Lecture: Arjun Raj

April 8 at 3:30 PM - 4:30 PM

“Can a cell learn?”

Ever since the genetic code was deciphered, we have increasingly come to view cellular control through the lens of genetic determinism. In this paradigm, a cell’s fate is already written into its DNA, which is in turn shaped by Darwinian evolution over the course of many generations. At the same time, an essential part of our experience as human beings is our ability to learn: our past shapes our present in a multitude of ways, all within a single lifetime. Is it possible that cells can adapt to their environment by learning, thereby overcoming their genetic destiny? We explore this possibility by tracing the life history of individual cells. In the context of drug resistance in cancer, we show that there is a special subset of cells that can store memories of past events. These memories allow cells to rewire themselves at the molecular level to adapt to challenges that evolution may have never encountered. We posit that cellular learning may be occurring across many biological systems, affording new opportunities for the engineering of cellular behavior.

Arjun Raj

Professor, Bioengineering and Genetics

Arjun grew up in Ithaca, New York, then went to UC Berkeley for his undergraduate education, where he majored in math and physics. He then earned his PhD in mathematics from the Courant Institute at NYU, followed by postdoctoral training at MIT before joining the faculty at Penn in 2010. He is currently a Professor of Bioengineering and Professor of Genetics. His research focuses on the development and application of experimental techniques for making quantitative measurements in single cells and models for linking those measurements to cellular function. His ultimate goal is to achieve a quantitative understanding of the molecular underpinnings of cellular behavior.


April 8
3:30 PM - 4:30 PM
Event Category:


Penn Engineering
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Wu and Chen Auditorium (Room 101), Levine Hall
3330 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104 United States
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