- KITP Auditorium
Prof. Pankaj Mehta, Boston University
Physics-inspired models have the potential to transform our understanding of living systems. At the same time, the study of biological systems can lead to exciting new questions in statistical physics. This talk illustrates the symbiotic relationship between physics and biology using two examples drawn from our research.
The first part of the talk discusses how we are combining ideas from spin glass physics with large genomic datasets to construct “epigenetic landscapes” that give new insights into the molecular basis of cellular reprogramming - the direct conversion of one cell fate (e.g. neuron) into a different cell fate (e.g. stem cells). Our landscape models identify key transcription factors for reprogramming, explain the existence of partially-reprogrammed cells, identify a universal reaction coordinate for reprogramming dynamics, and can potentially be used to rationally-design reprogramming protocols to novel cell fates.
The second part of the talk shows how thinking about cellular information processing networks leads to fascinating, new physics questions related to computation, information, and thermodynamics. We illustrate how nonequilibrium thermodynamics places fundamental constraints on the ability of cellular circuits to process information, and discuss the implications of these findings for the emerging field of synthetic biology.