Science for Health
08 May 2012
A new informal group at NIMR has been formed to bring together researchers at the Institute using quantitative techniques and computational methods to solve biological problems.
Mathematical and computational biology has been a focus of NIMR research for many years, principally though the Division of Mathematical Biology with its groups working on protein structure prediction and on evolution. Researchers in the Division of Molecular Structure and the Division of Systems Biology also rely on computationally-intensive approaches. Increasingly, quantitative techniques are being used by a much wider range of groups, including those in Physical Biochemistry, Immune Cell Biology, Developmental Biology, Developmental Genetics & Stem Cell Biology. These fields are attracting researchers with backgrounds in physical sciences and computer sciences.
The Quantitative Biology Interest Group (QBIG) at NIMR is for those using applied mathematical or computational methods, as well as quantitative techniques in bioinformatics, biophysics and imaging. It provides a forum for exchange of ideas and a network for those doing quantitative work. The group holds regular meetings at which a couple of speakers give short, informal presentations about their projects. QBIG currently has about 50 followers and the meetings are lively and interactive affairs.
Speakers thus far have included:
One guest speaker, Ton Coolen from King's College London, spoke on ‘The quantification of macroscopic network properties’. Professor Coolen has a collaboration with Jens Kleinjung, in NIMR's Division of Mathematical Biology.
The establishment of the group was an initiative of Michael Cohen (pictured), who studies theoretical aspects of pattern formation in the lab of James Briscoe. Michael has a background in physics and interdisciplinary research and saw the need for the group when he joined NIMR. He did his PhD at UCL’s CoMPLEX – the Centre for Mathematics and Physics in the Life Sciences and Experimental Biology – where he studied cell-to-cell communication in the fly Drosophila melanogaster. His project had two supervisors – a physicist from Kings College and a biologist from UCL.
Technical advances over the past few decades have provided a wealth of biological data which requires new methods of analysis. Coming from a background in mathematical modelling this makes it a really exciting time to find myself integrated within an experimental laboratory here at the NIMR. The development of QBIG provides a valuable new opportunity to interact with other mathematical and computational scientists in a similar position. The group will act as a platform for theorists and experimentalists within the institute to present their challenges and ideas and so hopefully will foster even more interdisciplinary research in the future.
A quantification of the dynamically changing gradient of the signalling protein, Sonic Hedgehog (provided by Ana Ribeiro). This is typical of the data used to inform a model of the developing neural tube.
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