The NSF-Simons Center for Quantitative Biology at Northwestern University will catalyze quantitative approaches to fundamental questions about growth and development by integrating mathematical modeling and analysis with state-of-the-art experimental investigations. One of the great mysteries of our world is how myriad forms of life grow and develop from a single cell into a new organism. The sequence of developmental events is surprisingly robust, even though the biological processes emerge from a complex interplay between genetic programming and environmental inputs that can be quite variable. The revolution in "omics" and high-throughput analysis has uncovered associations in this process, but the causal mechanisms remain unknown. The research at the Center seeks to understand the underlying biological mechanisms and principles associated with these remarkable phenomena. The Center focuses on four interrelated research areas selected to elucidate distinct aspects of growth and development. Each project integrates hypothesis-driven mathematical modeling and data-driven mathematical analysis with advanced imaging, genomics, and metabolomics tools to explore biological processes across time, space, and extrinsic variables. Graduate, undergraduate, and postdoctoral trainees will be embedded in shared mathematical and biological environments, engaged in work with investigators across this multi-disciplinary spectrum. The Center will build interdisciplinary capacity through a visiting scholars program, a named fellows program, a pilot project program, a middle-school science club learning module, workshops, and training courses. It will advance knowledge in the biological and mathematical sciences, generate new conceptual models explaining development and growth, and train new investigators who are experienced in both fields.
The NSF-Simons Center for Quantitative Biology aims to transform understanding of organismal growth and development through quantitative approaches that combine three fundamental mathematical areas: dynamical systems theory, stochastic processes, and dimension reduction. The Center also intends to make substantial technical advances in quantitative approaches, by producing new high-dimensional biological datasets across spatial (cellular to organismal) and temporal scales, new conceptual models of diverse developmental processes, and mathematical models that describe developmental emergence. Project 1 will produce single-cell RNA-sequence data from a frog embryo and mouse embryonic stem cells at various stages during development and new conceptual models of embryogenesis using dynamical systems theory and statistical dimension reduction. The high-dimensional approach and datasets from Project 2 will enable a new mathematical model of roundworm growth as a function of genotype and environmental variables. Project 3 will provide a new overarching conceptual model of environmentally-driven oscillatory dynamics in the fruit fly and unique datasets that link molecular signatures in the fat body of the fly with phenotypic behavior. The image analysis of Project 4 will study stochastic variation in fruit fly development and generate a new mathematical model of the impact of protein expression noise on development processes. Across projects, new statistical methodologies and methods for combining multiple types of mathematical approaches will be tested and validated. New biological datasets, conceptual models, and mathematical models will be made available to the broader research community. The Center will promote interdisciplinary education and workforce training at the intersection of mathematical sciences and biology, scientific outreach to the underserved K-12 education community, and interdisciplinary training for visiting scholars.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.