Rice University

BCC BCC
BCC

Research

The Center for Theoretical Biological Physics is organized around three major synergy projects:

Molecular Underpinnings of Biological Systems

Living systems are assembled from biomolecules, consisting of proteins, nucleic acids, and lipids, sometimes modified by bound sugars. These macromolecular assemblies interact with each other and with a variety of small organic molecules. Physics has made seminal contributions to our understanding of biomolecular structure and concomitant function and some of the leading practitioners of molecular biophysics are CTBP members. This situation has given us the unique opportunity to expand the frontiers of this field in several directions, often by combining the expertise of disparate groups. In fact, CTBP does not directly support our established work in molecular biophysics, work that is not at the intellectual frontier; yet, we encourage the participation in CTBP activities of students/postdocs working on core problems both for the positive effects it has on their development and to provide an immediate outlet for newly developed tools and concepts.

Cellular and Multi-cellular Matter

The nature of the condensed-matter inside cells and inside tissues is rather different than the thermodynamically-controlled systems we have studied for decades in the physics community. All the constituents are maintained in states very far from equilibrium, via the action of molecular machines that convert chemical energy into mechanical work, often leading to self-organized structures. This picture invariably leads to a large number of fundamental questions including for example how does metabolism and energy-utilization couple to cell behavior, how is the regulatory control of spatially-extended non linear systems such as the cytoskeleton accomplished, and what is the nature of the coupling between individual components (such as cells) which must cooperate to achieve larger-scale functionality.

Biological Dynamics and Information Flow

Living systems use interacting networks to accomplish functional tasks, all in the service of survival and reproduction. Networks exist at all levels of the biological hierarchy, from intracellular ones involving interacting molecules, from organisms with coordinated cellular behavior, to ecosystems with competing and cooperating species. Unlike abiotic systems, these networks have evolved to be functional, and hence are constantly evaluating external information as well as their own status in order to ``decide" how to proceed. CTBP aims at establishing new paradigms as to how these systems are organized in a modular fashion, so as to function effectively in a noisy environment and with thereby accomplish desired tasks. Also, we are interested in how these modules can evolve under Darwinian selection.