Welcome to the Levin lab: investigating information storage
and processing in biological systems
We work on novel ways to understand and control complex pattern formation.
We use techniques of molecular genetics, biophysics, and computational
modeling to address large-scale control of growth and form. We work in
whole frogs and flatworms, and sometimes zebrafish and human tissues in culture.
Our projects span regeneration, embryogenesis, cancer, and learning
plasticity – all examples of how cellular networks process information.
In all of these efforts, our goal is not only to understand the molecular
mechanisms necessary for morphogenesis, but also to uncover and exploit
the cooperative signaling dynamics that allow complex bodies to build and
remodel themselves toward a correct structure. Our major goal is to
understand how individual cell behaviors are orchestrated towards appropriate
large-scale outcomes despite unpredictable environmental perturbations.
Some general themes that run through our diverse research together include:
- We focus on information in biological tissues,
analyzing morphogenetic systems as cognitive agents
that know their shape and make decisions about
pattern regulation. We use techniques of artificial
intelligence and neuroscience to find out what
information cells have and how they store and
communicate it among themselves. Our focus on
algorithmic (constructivist) computer models of
patterning is an important component of linking
genetic networks to complex 3-dimensional shape and
its regulation in vivo.
- We study bioelectrical signals that make up part
of the language by which cell activities are
orchestrated into the complex patterning needs of
the host organism. These natural voltage gradients
exist in all cells (not just neurons), and we have
developed new molecular tools to track
and manipulate these biophysical conversations
between cells and tissues. The results have yielded
important findings about basic patterning as well as
new strategies to induce regenerative repair
and reprogram tissues into new organs.
- We have projects in development, regeneration,
and cancer, as well as in the plasticity of the
brain and its connection to somatic tissues. These
fields are treated as distinct by most labs, funding
bodies, and educational programs, but we span them
because we are seeking the most fundamental aspects
of biological regulation, and we believe that common
rules of information processing are used throughout
these aspects of biology. While our work will
eventually give rise to practical applications in
bioengineering and biomedicine, we are fundamentally
interested in synthetic biology and artificial life
– the understanding of living systems as cohesive,
computational entities that store and process information
about their shape and their environment.
Learn more about new directions in our
Photo credit: Image is modified after "The
Neurologist" by Jose Perez