Math to explain our bodies better?
Washington D.C. [USA], Mar. 4 : Our body is one complex structure, which boggles the mind and drives the work of biomedical scientists around the world.But a pair of mathematicians has introduced a new way of thinking about these concepts that may help to set the stage for better understanding of our bodies and other living things.
Writing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the pair from the University of Michigan Medical School and University of California, Berkeley introduced a framework for using math to understand how genetic information and interactions between cells give rise to the actual function of a particular type of tissue.
They noted, it's a highly idealised framework, not one that takes into account every detail of this process, called 'emergence of function.'
But by stepping back and making a simplified model based on mathematics, they hope to create a basis for scientists to understand the changes that happen over time, within and between cells to make living tissues possible. It could also help with understanding of how diseases, such as cancer, can arise when things don't go as planned.
Researchers Indika Rajapakse and Stephen Smale have worked on the concepts for several years.
"All the time, this process is happening in our bodies, as cells are dying and arising, and yet they keep the function of the tissue going," said Rajapakse. "We need to use beautiful mathematics and beautiful biology together to understand the beauty of a tissue."
For the new work, they even hearken back to the work of Alan Turing, the pioneering British mathematician famous for his "Turing machine" computer that cracked Nazi codes during World War II.
Toward the end of his life, Turing began looking at the mathematical underpinnings of morphogenesis, the process that allows natural patterns such as a zebra's stripes to develop as a living thing grows from an embryo to an adult.
"Our approach adapts Turing's technique, combining genome dynamics within the cell and the diffusion dynamics between cells," said Rajapakse.
His team of biologists and engineers conducted experiments that captured human genome dynamics in three dimensions, using biochemical methods and high resolution imaging.