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

5 results
[5] Desynchronizing Embryonic Cell Division Waves Reveals the Robustness of Xenopus laevis Development
Anderson*, G. A., Gelens*, L., Baker, J. and Ferrell Jr., J. E. (* contributed equally),
Cell Reports
, volume 21, pp. 37–46, 2017. (featured on the cover)
[4] Positive feedback keeps duration of mitosis temporally insulated from upstream cell-cycle events
Araujo, A. R., Gelens, L. and Sheriff, R. S. M. and Santos, S. D. M.,
Molecular Cell
, volume 64, pp. 362–375, 2016.
[3] How does the Xenopus laevis embryonic cell cycle avoid spatial chaos?
Gelens, L., Huang, K. C. and Ferrell Jr., J. E.,
Cell Reports
, volume 12, pp. 892–900, 2015.
[2] 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.
[1] A general model for toxin-antitoxin module dynamics can explain persister cell formation in E. coli
Gelens, L., Hill, L., Vandervelde, A., Danckaert, J. and Loris, R.,
PLOS Computational Biology
, volume 9, pp. e1003190, 2013.