The Development of Mathematical Biology - a report from the Society for Mathematical Biology Conference

Oxford mathematical biologists, past and present, featured very prominently at the annual Society for Mathematical Biology (SMB) meeting held from 13-17 June and organised remotely from the University of California, Riverside. It was the largest ever conference in the field, with over 2,500 participants and more than 1,000 talks delivered by speakers from 47 countries. The conference had an unusual format, running 24 hours a day to cater for the worldwide audience. 

The breadth of topics covered showed how the subject has developed and changed over the past 10 years. Mathematical models are now being increasingly used to inform biological understanding (here the term biology is used very broadly and encompasses medicine, ecology, and epidemiology) at a level of detail not seen before.

This leads to new modelling challenges, for example in developing ways to integrate the microscale detail of biological systems to derive mathematically tractable macroscale models. This, in turn, leads to new mathematical equations that require advances in analysis techniques. In addition, there was increasing emphasis on the use of data to validate models and this brings with it novel challenges in spatial statistics, parameter estimation and identifiability. A key theme of the conference was education and equality, diversity and inclusivity.

The conference began with Kit Yates, formerly of Oxford Mathematics' Wolfson Centre for Mathematical Biology (WCMB) and now a Senior Lecturer at the University of Bath, delivering a talk featuring the work that won him the Society’s Lee Segel Prize for the best paper published in the Bulletin of Mathematical Biology. It ended with four of the prizes for best talk delivered in various sessions going to members of the WCMB. 

Johannes Borgqvist was awarded a Postdoc Prize for his presentation “Symmetry methods for model-construction and analysis” and Aden Forrow won the Data-Driven Prize for his talk “Learning stochastic dynamics with measurement noise.” Duncan Martinson was awarded a Contributed Talk Prize for his presentation “Extracellular matrix remodelling by neural crest cells provides a robust signal for collective migration”, and Solveig van der Vegt won a student prize for her talk “Mathematical modelling of autoimmune myocarditis and the effects of immune checkpoint inhibitors”. In addition, Mohit Dalwadi from the Oxford Centre for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (OCIAM) won a Contributed Talk Prize for his presentation “Emergent robustness of bacterial quorum sensing in fluid flow”, and former WCMB students Linus Schumacher (now at Edinburgh) and Jody Reimer (now at Utah) also won prizes.