Reprogramming the cell
Applying mathematical tools to the holy grail of cellular biology: can we produce every type of human cell from within the laboratory?
The cell coding company Bit Bio is hunting for the recipe to produce every cell in the human body. They are reprogramming induced pluripotent stem cells by switching on the correct genetic characteristics for each type of target cell. They’ve already had some exciting experimental success, but there are too many combinations of switches to test them all. That’s where we come in.
Our physicists are harnessing methods from network science to model the interactions between genes and proteins, which are fundamental to understanding how a cell functions. We are developing analytical tools which strike a balance between having to focus on only small-scale processes to make an experimental test tractable, and having to make too many assumptions for a large-scale statistical study. We want to understand these fundamental feedback loops and interactions in order to find groupings and patterns that will circumvent the need for an expensive brute-force approach.
Introducing mathematical methods to a traditionally experimental field of biology is challenging, but the rewards will be significant. The ability to reprogram cells will provide unprecedented advances in new drug research, cell therapy and even a glimpse into the process of ageing.
The fraction of logics that are biologically permitted can be bounded and shown to be tiny, which makes inferring them from experiments easier.
The bipartite nature of genetic regulatory networks means their logics are composed, which severely restricts which ones can show up in life.
The structural properties of a network motif predict its functional versatility and relate to gene regulatory networks.