Dynamics in Biology

Cells are the fundamental units of life. A cell’s ability to replicate, grow, divide, and interact with its environment lies at the heart of every organism. These basic biological processes are precisely regulated in space and time by a complex and dynamic network of interacting genes, RNAs, and proteins.

Our lab aims at providing a simpler view of this incredible biological complexity, primarily focusing on the regulation of cell division. We believe that understanding the system dynamics is essential to achieving this goal. The dynamical interaction of proteins can lead to robust systems-level behavior, for example, the irreversible cellular decision to divide. Different sets of proteins often interact in similar ways to generate the same function (e.g., an irreversible switch), underscoring the relevance of a generic dynamical view of biology.

In our studies we glean techniques from physics and mathematics, such as the theory of nonlinear dynamics and complex systems, which allows us to theoretically analyze the spatiotemporal dynamics of molecules inside cells. This approach is complemented by molecular and cellular experiments, in which we test our hypotheses by controllably perturbing biological processes in model organisms such as Xenopus frogs, zebrafish, and mammalian cells. This synergistic approach is geared toward understanding how cells are regulated in space and time. In the long-term we believe that a functional understanding of a cell’s most basic processes will contribute to developing new therapeutic strategies to combat diseases such as cancer.

Selected publications

[6] Nuclei Determine the Spatial Origin of Mitotic Waves
Nolet, F.E.*, Vandervelde, A.*, Vanderbeke, A.*, Pineros, L.*, Chang, J. B. and Gelens, L. (* contributed equally),
, volume 9, pp. e52868, 2020.
[5] Delay models for the early embryonic cell cycle oscillator
Rombouts, J., Vandervelde, A. and Gelens, L.,
PLoS One
, volume 13, pp. 1-21, 2018.
[4] Exploring the Function of Dynamic Phosphorylation-Dephosphorylation Cycles
Gelens, L. and Saurin, A. T.,
Developmental Cell
, volume 44, pp. 659-663, 2018.
[3] The Importance of Kinase–Phosphatase Integration: Lessons from Mitosis
Gelens, L., Qian, J., Bollen, M. and Saurin, A. T.,
Trends in Cell Biology
, volume 28, pp. 6-21, 2017.
[2] Desynchronizing Embryonic Cell Division Waves Reveals the Robustness of Xenopus laevis Development
Anderson*, G. A., Gelens*, L., Baker, J. and Ferrell, J. E. Jr. (* contributed equally),
Cell Reports
, volume 21, pp. 37–46, 2017. (featured on the cover)
[1] Spatial trigger waves: positive feedback gets you a long way
Gelens, L., Anderson, G. A. and Ferrell Jr., J. E.,
Molecular Biology of the Cell
, volume 25, pp. 3486–3493, 2014.