Although all of nature is subject to the laws of physics and chemistry, the notion of purpose or ‘function’, differentiates biology from other natural sciences. In particular, evolutionary selection for function has given rise to vast and elaborate networks of interacting molecules within each living cell, comprising mostly proteins, which allow cells to interpret their external environments, make decisions, and orchestrate complex responses. These signalling networks are now recognised to be a rich source of fascinating mathematical problems.
In this talk, I will discuss the search for fundamental design principles in complex cellular networks in the context of a ubiquitously-observed phenomenon known as Robust Perfect Adaptation (RPA). We have recently discovered that all RPA-capable collections of interacting molecules are able to compute integrals by exploiting special structural constraints on their underlying chemical reactions, thereby implementing the well-established engineering strategy known as integral control. We have also suggested a resolution to the complexity-robustness paradox through the discovery that RPA-capable networks must be decomposable into topological basis modules with well-defined architectures. This newly-discovered modularisation, and the remarkable computational potential of self-organising molecular networks, has important implications for evolutionary biology, embryology and development, cancer research, and drug development.
Dr Robyn Araujo
ARC Future Fellow, and Senior Lecturer in Applied Mathematics, Queensland University of Technology
Dr Robyn Araujo holds a PhD in Applied Mathematics, with a focus on Mathematical Biology, and undertook postdoctoral training at the National Cancer Institute (National Institutes of Health, USA) and the Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine (George Mason University, USA). Dr Araujo is currently an ARC Future Fellow at QUT, and continues to pursue wide-ranging research interests at the intersection of mathematics and the life sciences. Her recent work has led to the development of new mathematical methods to study and analyse complex phenomena in cellular signalling networks such as robust perfect adaptation (RPA). These methods are creating new opportunities to understand the “rules of life”, and the fundamental design principles that constrain evolutionary processes to a surprisingly limited set of molecular network constructions that allow organisms to survive and function. These powerful new approaches now promise to identify definitive criteria for successful pharmacological interventions in adaptive networks, and are generating new strategies for the modelling of networks at the whole-cell level.