Morphodynamics of Plants, Animals and Beyond (Minipgm)

Coordinators: Elliot M. Meyerowitz, Eric Mjolsness, Clare Yu

Scientific Advisors: Michael Elowitz, Carsten Peterson

How do biochemical, mechanical and informational processes determine major changes in the morphology of living organisms? By analogy with physical theories such as hydrodynamics and electrodynamics, "morphodynamics" is the predictive and causal study of how an organism's form changes over time. Challenging scientific questions include how internal organs determine their size and shape, how patterns and symmetries in the developing organism remain robust in the presence of spatiotemporal fluctuations of morphogens, and the influence of environmental factors (such as temperature) on development. Much recent work has focused on plant development, which enjoys the simplification that plant cells grow and change shape but generally don't exhibit motility within a plant. Morphodynamic models can predict the spatial development of living plant tissues when enough spatial data and the right hypotheses are available, as, for example, in the shoot apex of the plant Arabidopsis thaliana. Animal tissues such as fruit fly embryos, imaginal disks, and wings are also subject to morphodynamic modeling in which common morphodynamic themes are emerging.

Principles discovered in the course of developmental modeling may find applications or analogs in areas "beyond plants and animals" such as statistical physics, bioengineering, nanotechnology, mathematics, and the foundations of computing. Morphodynamics in such settings may generalize to a three-way interplay of physical dynamics, changing geometry, and local information processing in extended objects.

This five-week program will seek to bring to bear current developments and foundational work in models of morphodynamic processes. Beneficiaries will include biologists who bring their problems, and physicists, applied mathematicians, and computer scientists who bring capabilities to more deeply understand such spatially dynamic problems.

KITP is eager to have program participants stay for as long as possible and strongly encourages theorists to come for a minimum of three weeks. Experimentalists are encouraged to present their systems.  We welcome applications from all interested scientists; however, because of limitations of both budget and office space, participation is by invitation only.