Finding Synergy Between Math and Biology

Frontiers in Mathematical Biology:<br />
NSF-NIH PIs Meeting 2010 posterLast week, I attended the PI’s meeting for the Joint DMS/NIGMS Initiative to Support Research in the Area of Mathematical Biology Exit icon, a program managed by us and NSF’s Division of Mathematical Sciences. A key goal of the program is to bring mathematicians and new mathematical approaches into the core of biological and biomedical research.

I was a grantee of this program before I came to NIGMS, so it was interesting to see how the program has evolved and to meet other scientists finding synergy between math and biology.

During the two-day meeting Exit icon, researchers and students supported by the program shared their experiences, exchanged ideas and explored new collaborations in the field of mathematical biology. Their oral and poster presentations covered a spectrum of topics, from protein and RNA structure prediction to modeling biological complexity and statistical inference. The meeting also featured six brainstorming breakout sessions that helped the program officials identify future opportunities and challenges for the field.

Here are few ideas that caught my attention:

  • Several speakers emphasized that the quest for stimulating the innovative use of mathematics should not undermine the application of well established mathematical approaches in biology.
  • Dynamical systems theory, which describes how complex networks change over time, suggests that the architecture underlying a biological network’s control system may have been evolutionary selected to support the delicate balance between robustness and efficiency.
  • Methods for studying the spread of infectious diseases could also be used to study the spread of emotional states (depression, happiness, etc.).

If you are interested in mathematical biology, visit the meeting Web site—it will be updated soon with the meeting abstracts, slides and photos. If you would like to apply for funding for mathematical biology research, look for an announcement about the program’s next solicitation on the Feedback Loop around the end of July.

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