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IMA Annual Program Year Workshop
Design Principles in Biological Systems
April 21-25, 2008

Bud MishraNew York University
Partha MitraCold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Workshop Background and Goals:

Evolution and Engineering Principles: Evolution is a process of retaining accidentally found solutions to problems that living organisms have to solve in order to survive. Even though the solutions or designs are found accidentally through the process of evolution, the premise of the workshop is that they may be studied in their current form by understanding engineering solutions to the problems being solved. Therefore, a primary goal of this workshop is pedagogy in existing engineering disciplines in relation to biological function.

In addition to studying current engineering theories, it is also important to study the origin of design principles in the evolutionary process, a subject that is currently in its infancy. This connection will be explored in one or more workshop sessions. Also central to the premise of the workshop is the notion of convergent evolution, the extent of which will also be examined.

Physico-chemical and Engineering theories: There are two classes of theoretical explanations in biology:
    (a) Physico-chemical mechanisms ("analysis")^M
    (b) Engineering theories, or function-solution pairs ("synthesis")
In the past, theoretical biology has largely focused on (a). While (b) has also been studied in a relatively ad hoc manner, it has not been approached from a disciplinary perspective. ^M

A new generation of theoretical biology is currently taking shape with more formal emphasis on design or engineering principles. As part of this workshop we hope to help refine the taxonomy of such principles and emphasize the roots in existing engineering disciplines.

Same principles across scales: While the initial development in this field has largely been in the area of cellular biochemical networks, our premise is that the same design principle may apply to disparate scales and systems. In particular, it is of interest to examine the theoretical parallels between cellular level systems (e.g. biochemical networks in bacteria), and organism level systems (e.g. neural systems) or systems comprising multiple organisms. Therefore, speakers at the workshop will be drawn from investigators working at these different scales of organization.


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