Physical Biology: is there an elephant in the room?

Event Date: 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013 - 4:00pm

Event Location: 

  • Broida 1640

Event Contact: 

Physics Colloquium - Refreshments Served at 3:40


Professor Stanislas Leibler, Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton) and the Rockefeller University (NYC)


In physics we are attracted by simple and universal phenomena. In biology problems turn out to be often more complicated than anticipated and universality is approximate and rare. One possible reason for this is that biology is essentially a historical science and contingency plays a crucial role. Physical biology tends to ignore this “elephant in the room,” mainly by limiting itself to molecular investigations. On the other hand, it could be interesting if one “replayed the tape” of biology multiple times and then performed statistical analysis of evolutionary histories.  Maybe simple laws of living matter and universality classes of its behavior could then emerge?

In the meantime, I will present some first results of long-term laboratory experiments in closed microbial ecosystems. Each system is a small world in itself, with its idiosyncrasies and (hi)story to tell. Local population dynamics is monitored in dozens of replicates. Surprisingly, statistical laws governing the population fluctuations seem to be quite simple.