Madhav Mani, Ph.D.,
Assistant Professor of Engineering Sciences and Applied Mathematics
Topic: Descartes’ Duck and Picasso’s Bull
Abstract: The Duck of Vaucanson served to illustrate Descartes view (1662) that all animals could be reductively explained as automata – a 17th century Rube Golberg Machine. While much of the last 70 years of biological research has, successfully, worked within a paradigm of molecular reductionism, cutting edge imaging and sequencing data now presents the opportunity to pursue a more integrated study of living systems. A critical challenge for modern biology is thus to achieve a proper “coarse-grained”, low-dimensional description of living systems that captures the relative functional significance of their constituents and interactions. Juxtaposing Picasso’s subjective approach to course-graining his famous bulls (1945), the approach we pursue is a data-driven one, using a combination of physical modeling and machine learning. In this talk, I will focus on two projects that leverage cutting-edge live-imaging and single-cell sequencing data to produce data-driven insights into the phenomena of embryonic morphogenesis and cellular fate-specification dynamics. Additional vignettes will give a glimpse into the quantitative frameworks and computational algorithms that our group develops to produce rigorous and holistic analyses of modern biological data.