The spatio-temporal expression pattern of a gene during development is a valuable piece of information. But there is no way to compare precisely the patterns of expression of different genes, or the way the patterns are changed in a mutant. One way to solve this problem is to construct digital reference images of development (a bioinformatics framework), to which expression patterns can be mapped and stored, then compared. Such frameworks are under active development in several model systems. They will form the basis of powerful and integrated gene expression databases, which facilitate comparisons between genes, tissues and species.