Gradient SensingMany vital cellular functions require the cell to respond to a directional gradient of a signaling molecule. A complete theory for how cells extract and process information from extracellular gradients would improve our ability to both decipher and engineer such processes, for example, in advanced synthetic biology applications.
Epigenetic NetworksCells process information using complex networks linking tens-of-thousands of weakly interacting macromolecules. A major roadblock is the lack of models that capture both the information processing and the biophysics of these networks. In fact, because biological networks are sufficiently different from human experience, we are unlikely to be able to design them without the aid of sophisticated computer models.
Chromosome StructureEpigenetic state is controlled not only by trans acting factors, but also in cis by the structure and organization of the chromosome. The dynamics of chromosomal organization have a profound influence on the flow of epigenetic information.
Pattern FormationAlan Turing elegantly showed that reaction-diffusion models of simple interacting components can generate complex patterns. The reverse problem is much harder. What set of states, morphogens, and interactions are needed to obtain a particular pattern?
About the Roberts LabThe Roberts laboratory is devoted to understanding and modeling the behavior of cells as complex systems. We are using tools from the general area of biological physics: potential- and probability-based computational modeling along with limited applications of single-cell, single-molecule experimental techniques (split roughly 80% theoretical/computational and 20% experimental). We term this approach “Physical Systems Biology” and it lies at the interface of biology, computer science, and physics. While this approach absolutely requires in-depth characterization of particular components, an equally critical step is then stepping back to consolidate the knowledge gained into a model of the entire cellular system. Incorporating many varied types of biological data into a genuine in silico model of the cell is the long-range goal of the laboratory.