Meet the poster prize winner of ‘Theory and concepts in biology’ – Course and Conference Office


Our mission is to train scientists. This blog is a platform for us to share updates on our annual programme, tips and tricks for scientists, new e-learning opportunities, and sometimes just something to make you smile.

Meet the poster prize winner of ‘Theory and concepts in biology’

 In July, the EMBO | EMBL Symposium ‘Theory and concepts in biology’ took place for the first time ever, bringing together an interdisciplinary community and providing a platform to discuss perspectives on the role of theory in biology, and importantly also vice versa, the impact that biology can have on theory. The conference featured a lot of opportunities for networking, not only during the many group activities the scientific organisers Alexander Aulehla, Jordi Garcia-Ojalvo, Rob Phillips, and Kirsty Wan had organised, but also during the two poster sessions. We are pleased to present to you the poster prize winner of the event: Felix Meigel!

Biological signal processing across scales

Presenter: Felix Meigel

Felix Meigel, Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems, Germany

Understanding how fluctuations continuously propagate across spatial scales is fundamental for our understanding of inanimate matter. In striking contrast to inanimate systems, biological systems are typically organized into a hierarchy of non-equilibrium processes on a discrete set of spatial scales: from biochemical processes embedded in dynamic subcellular compartments to cells giving rise to tissues. We show how the multi-scale organization of biological systems creates new non-equilibrium steady states by mitigating the propagation of fluctuations, thus enabling biological function. In this contribution, we focus on chemical reaction networks embedded in compartments which undergo merging and fragmentation, resembling biochemical processes embedded in active organelles. We use the formalism of the Second Quantization to demonstrate how compartment dynamics shift reaction networks violating detailed balance to new non-equilibrium steady states and assess the change in entropy production. We then turn to the example of cellular inflammation signaling in response to RNA-virus infections. Here, the formation of giant MAVS-protein clusters on the mitochondrial membrane in response to the detection of viral RNA in the cytosol is a pre-requisite for efficient inflammation responses.

We demonstrate how mitochondrial fusion and fragmentation directly affects the MAVS aggregation dynamics, facilitating the formation of larger and more stable clusters by a steady redistribution of the clusters among the mitochondria. This shifts the MAVS aggregation dynamics to new non-equilibrium steady states, which sensitizes the MAVS aggregation dynamics to small concentrations and improves anti-viral signaling. We argue that dynamic compartmentalization plays a pivotal role in various organelle-associated signaling pathways and technical applications in compartmentalized systems.

Due to the confidentiality of the unpublished data, we cannot share the poster.

The EMBO | EMBL Symposium ‘Theory and concepts in biology’ took place 18 – 21 July 2023 at EMBL Heidelberg and virtually.