Mathematical Biology and Ecology Seminar

Please note that the list below only shows forthcoming events, which may not include regular events that have not yet been entered for the forthcoming term. Please see the past events page for a list of all seminar series that the department has on offer.

Past events in this series
21 January 2022

Gastrulation is a critical event in vertebrate morphogenesis, characterized by coordinated large-scale multi-cellular movements. One grand challenge in modern biology is understanding how spatio-temporal morphological structures emerge from cellular processes in a developing organism and vary across vertebrates. We derive a theoretical framework that couples tissue flows, stress-dependent myosin activity, and actomyosin cable orientation. Our model, consisting of a set of nonlinear coupled PDEs, predicts the onset and development of observed experimental patterns of wild-type and perturbations of chick gastrulation as a spontaneous instability of a uniform state. We use analysis and numerics to show how our model recapitulates the phase space of gastrulation morphologies seen across vertebrates, consistent with experiments. Altogether, this suggests that early embryonic self-organization follows from a minimal predictive theory of active mechano-sensitive flows. 

  • Mathematical Biology and Ecology Seminar
11 February 2022

My seminar will discuss various data-science issues related to
neurogenomics. First, I will focus on classic disorders of the brain,
which affect nearly a fifth of the world's population. Robust
phenotype-genotype associations have been established for several
psychiatric diseases (e.g., schizophrenia, bipolar disorder). However,
understanding their molecular causes is still a challenge. To address
this, the PsychENCODE consortium generated thousands of transcriptome
(bulk and single-cell) datasets from 1,866 individuals. Using these
data, we have developed interpretable machine learning approaches for
deciphering functional genomic elements and linkages in the brain and
psychiatric disorders. Specifically, we developed a deep-learning
model embedding the physical regulatory network to predict phenotype
from genotype. Our model uses a conditional Deep Boltzmann Machine
architecture and introduces lateral connectivity at the visible layer
to embed the biological structure learned from the regulatory network
and QTL linkages. Our model improves disease prediction (6X compared
to additive polygenic risk scores), highlights key genes for
disorders, and imputes missing transcriptome information from genotype
data alone. Next, I will look at the "data exhaust" from this activity
- that is, how one can find other things from the genomic analyses
than what is necessarily intended. I will focus on genomic privacy,
which is a main stumbling block in tackling problems in large-scale
neurogenomics. In particular, I will look at how the quantifications
of expression levels can reveal something about the subjects studied
and how one can take steps to sanitize the data and protect patient
anonymity. Finally, another stumbling block in neurogenomics is more
accurately and precisely phenotyping the individuals. I will discuss
some preliminary work we've done in digital phenotyping.

  • Mathematical Biology and Ecology Seminar
18 February 2022

Building computationally capable biological systems has long been an aim of synthetic biology. The potential utility of bio-computing devices ranges from biosafety and environmental applications to diagnosis and personalised medicine. Here we present work on the design of bacterial computers which use spatial patterning to process information. A computer is composed of a number of bacterial colonies which, inspired by patterning in embryo development, communicate using diffusible morphogen-like signals. A computation is programmed into the overall physical arrangement of the system by arranging colonies such that the resulting diffusion field encodes the desired function, and the output is represented in the spatial pattern displayed by the colonies. We first mathematically demonstrate the simple digital logic capability of single bacterial colonies and show how additional structure is required to build complex functions. Secondly, inspired by electronic design automation, an algorithm for designing optimal spatial circuits computing two-level digital logic functions is presented, extending the capability of our system to complex digital functions without significantly increasing the biological complexity. We implement experimentally a proof-of-principle system using engineered Escherichia coli interpreting diffusion fields formed from droplets of an inducer molecule. Our approach will open up new ways to perform biological computation, with applications in synthetic biology, bioengineering and biosensing. Ultimately, these computational bacterial communities will help us explore information processing in natural biological systems.

  • Mathematical Biology and Ecology Seminar
25 February 2022

In collective navigation a population travels as a group from an origin to a destination. Famous examples include the migrations of birds and whales, between winter and summer grounds, but collective movements also extend down to microorganisms and cell populations. Collective navigation is believed to improve the efficiency of migration, for example through the presence of more knowledgeable individuals that guide naive members ("leader-follower behaviour") or through the averaging out of individual uncertainty ("many wrongs"). In this talk I will describe both individual and continuous approaches for modelling collective navigation. We investigate the point at which group information becomes beneficial to migration and how it can help a population navigate through areas with poor guidance information. We also explore the effectiveness of different modes through which a leader can herd a group of naïve followers. As an application we will consider the impact of noise pollution on the migration of whales through the North Sea.

  • Mathematical Biology and Ecology Seminar
4 March 2022
Dr Jonathan Swinton

Fibonacci numbers in plants, such as in sunflower spiral counts, have long fascinated mathematicians. For the last thirty years, most analyses have been variants of a Standard Model in which plant organs are treated as point nodes successively placed on a cylinder according to a given function of the previous node positions, not too close or too far away from the existing nodes. These models usually lead to lattice solutions. As a parameter of the model, like the diameter of the cylinder, is changed, the lattice can transition to another, more complex lattice, with a different spiral count. It can typically be proved that these transitions move lattice counts to higher Fibonacci numbers. While mathematically compelling, empirical validation of this Standard Model is as yet weak, even though the underlying molecular mechanisms are increasingly well characterised. 

In this talk I'll show a gallery of Fibonacci patterning and give a brief history of mathematical approaches, including a partially successful attempt by Alan Turing. I'll describe how the classification of lattices on cylinders connects both to a representation of $SL(2,Z)$ and to applications through defining the constraint that any model must satisfy to show Fibonacci structure. I'll discuss a range of such models, how they might be used to make testable predictions, and why this matters.

From 2011 to 2017 Jonathan Swinton  was a visiting professor to MPLS in Oxford in Computational Systems Biology. His new textbook Mathematical Phyllotaxis will be published  soon, and his Alan Turing's Manchester will be republished by The History Press in May 2022. 


  • Mathematical Biology and Ecology Seminar
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