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Computational Cell Biology Is Focus of Stetten Symposium

By Alison Davis

To some scientists, biology is just one enormous math problem.

Over the years, researchers have amassed mountains of fundamental knowledge about biological molecules that make up complex biological networks. The next step — modeling these complex systems in multiple dimensions, including space and time — is the focus of a burgeoning new area of science called computational biology.

The field requires lots of math and a marriage of expertise between biologists and engineers, mathematicians, computer scientists and physicists.

Three NIGMS-supported researchers working at the cutting edge of this 21st-century science will showcase their latest findings at this year's DeWitt Stetten, Jr. Symposium, entitled "Computational Cell Biology." The symposium, which is part of the NIH Director's Wednesday Afternoon Lecture Series and which is sponsored by NIGMS, will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 23 from 2 to 4 p.m. in Masur Auditorium, Bldg. 10.

The ultimate goal of computational biologists is the ability to use their models to predict biological behavior. That goal may sound abstract, but it's not. Acquiring such an ability will enable scientists to improve human health in a variety of ways. Exquisite means to design safe and effective medicines, better prevention strategies and even individualized treatments for a wide range of diseases and health conditions are just a few of the outcomes likely to emerge from computational biology research in the coming years.

Dr. Douglas A. Lauffenburger

The symposium will begin with a talk by chemical engineer Dr. Douglas A. Lauffenburger of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His presentation, "EGF Receptor Circuit Operation: A Paradigm from Quantitative Cell Biology," will explore how mathematical modeling of basic signaling networks can shed light on cell motion, a critical process underlying development, wound healing and the spread of cancer.

Dr. Garrett M. Odell

Theoretical biologist/applied mathematician Dr. Garrett M. Odell of the University of Washington's Friday Harbor Laboratories on San Juan Island will give the next talk, entitled "The Robustness of Evolved Genetic Networks Would be Astonishing Were It Not Essential." Odell will explain how computer models are yielding clues about key developmental processes like the wiring of the brain and the organization of the body plan. Odell uses fruit flies as a model system for these experiments.

Dr. Lucy Shapiro

Stanford University School of Medicine's Dr. Lucy Shapiro will conclude the symposium with her talk, "The Cell Cycle: Spatial and Temporal Control of a Multicomponent Genetic Network." She will describe how her research with the bacterium Caulobacter crescentus has enhanced understanding of basic processes such as how genetic programming helps cells move seamlessly through the cell cycle. Shapiro's pioneering research has revealed that the basic elements of these processes are common to organisms spanning life's evolutionary tree.

For more information or for reasonable accommodation, call Hilda Madine at 594-5595.

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