Are random matrix models useful in biological systems?

15 June 2021
Jon Pitchford

For five decades, mathematicians have exploited the beauties of random matrix theory (RMT) in the hope of discovering principles which govern complex ecosystems. While RMT lies at the heart of the ideas, their translation toward biological reality requires some heavy lifting: dynamical systems theory, statistics, and large-scale computations are involved, and any predictions should be challenged with empirical data. This can become very awkward.

In addition to a morose journey through some of my personal failures to make RMT meet reality, I will try to sketch out some more constructive future perspectives. In particular, new methods for microbial community composition, dynamics and evolution might allow us to apply RMT ideas to the treatment of cystic fibrosis. In addition, in fisheries I will argue that sometimes the very absence of an empirical dataset can add to the practical value of models as tools to influence policy.


  • Random Matrix Theory Seminars