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Idea: Synthetic analysis of leadership in biological systems

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Posted at 2014-2-24 07:09:01 | All floors |Read mode
Idea: Synthetic analysis of leadership in biological systems

This idea is a combination of the work from Dr. Paul Kulesa (Stowers Institute) studying neural crest migration and Dr. Jeff Tabor, Dr. Oleg Igoshin (Rice U) studying systems and synthetic biology as well as Dr.  Iain D. Couzin (Princeton U).  This kind of combination was inspired by Dr.Wenying Shou (Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center).

The study of schools of fish showed that if we trained some fish to be so-called leader fish in a group, it will guide the whole group to a food source or any kind of attractors.  Besides, in order to make sure the whole school of fish to be leaded by those leader fish, the number of leaders actually is inverse proportional to the size of the group.  This results in the larger the group, the less the leaders to be required.  

On the other hand, neural crest cells are a transient, multipotent, migratory cell population unique to vertebrates that gives rise to a diverse cell lineage including melanocytes, craniofacial cartilage and so on.  The importance of its migration has been shown in development but the quantitative mechanism is still unknown.  Previous works demonstrated that this type of cells can be classified into two groups: leading(leader) cells and trailing cells.  Whether they are behaving the same as the school of fish is largely unknown, theoritically and experimentally.  One thing is known for sure, however, these two groups of cells have interactions.(mutual or one-way I forgot)

This kind of interaction, through the receptors on the cell membrane, has been widely studied in different biological systems, including social bacteria Bacillus subtilis.  Taking advantages of synthetic biology, we might rebuild this in bacteria to study the general principle of leadership in biological systems.  We can use for example, Pavlovian-like conditioning circuit to train the leader cell or simply control the genetic circuit by light induced promoter.

The challenge here could be:
1. The sizes of fish, mammalian cells, and bacteria are at different scales, which might influence the performance of the leader.  However, at the same time, it is very interesting to know the answer to this at different scales.

2. The attractor should be carefully selected in order to maintain a stable distribution in liquid media.

3. Any other possible bugs during experiment.
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Posted at 2014-2-26 21:59:43 | All floors
It is really an interesting idea.
There were several talks about collective behaviors in this year's q bio. They are all highly dynamic. Did any one know how long these "leader" cells remains to be the leader? Do you have inheritable difference in behaviors, or any cells happen to be in the position can be the leader?
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