Spatio-temporal modeling network on plant systems (STEMN)

Lead Research Organisation: University of East Anglia
Department Name: Computing Sciences


Whilst it is essential to understand aspects of cells that are common within organisms and across species it is the spatio-temporal differences between cells that arise during development and responses to the environment that are of particular importance to higher organisms. What distinguishes man from the ape is the integrated system, likewise it is the differences between cell types and their integration that distinguishes higher plants from algae. There is increasing research activity on the spatio-temporal determinants of gene expression patterns, regulatory control systems, mechanical properties, etc. that integrate to lead to growth and development and there is an increasing need to create mathematical, models of the observations and, more importantly, the underlying mechanisms. These can be quite complex because the relationships between the changes have to be understood in relation to each other. In other words, although components can be studied in isolation a full understanding is only obtained when they are treated as an integrated whole. This requires concise mathematical models that are usually translated into computable models. Although focussed on plants, the work will have general application. The initial goal of the network is to catalyse the rapid distribution of mathematical ideas, methods and the articulation of potential problems, a distant goal is the creation of a Virtual Plant.

Technical Summary

The network brings together a wide variety of modellers, with expertise in the key mathematical, statistical and computational techniques, with leading plant scientists. A series of workshops has been planned that has been specifically designed to facilitate the interdisciplinary interactions that will be required to realise the ambitious goal of developing Virtual Plants, which are now being addressed in several international programmes in Plant Systems Biology. Integrated models that genuinely encompass the mechanisms underpinning growth and maintenance will require a significant level of mathematical sophistication. The UK has much of the expertise to address the issues, such as the inference and modelling of the complex networks that underpin the behaviour at the subcellular level and the application of multiscale modelling tools (such as multiple-scale asymptotic methods) to embed such subcellular information appropriately into organism-scale models. Despite recent investment in large-scale Centre infrastructure in relevant areas of Systems Biology, there is no mechanism to coordinate the UK's response to these research challenges. STEMN will accelerate the development of research projects in this area and provide a focus for national coordination. Our experience of the GARNet network shows how relatively small investment in coordination can facilitate interactions with international projects and thus enhance the UK's international competitiveness.


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