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 enable 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 study bioelectrical signals that make up part of
the language by which cells communicate to serve the
patterning needs of the host organism. These natural
voltage gradients exist in all cells (not just
neurons), and regulate cell behavior and gene
expression. We have developed new molecular tools to
track and manipulate these biophysical conversations
between cells and tissues in vivo. 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 hypothesize that
common rules of information processing might be
discovered 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.
- We complement reductive analysis of
molecular components with a synthesis designed to
understand top-down controls and large-scale
properties. For example, we analyze
morphogenetic systems as primitive cognitive agents
that manipulate information about their shape and
make decisions about pattern regulation. We use
techniques of artificial intelligence and
neuroscience to find out what information
biological tissues have, and how it is stored,
processed, and communicated. 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.
Learn more about new directions in our
Photo credit: Image is modified after "The
Neurologist" by Jose Perez