Research Groups

Self-Organization of Multicellular Systems

Welcome to our group webpage! We are a joint research group, established in 2021, between the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems (MPI-PKS) and the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG), based at the Center for Systems Biology Dresden (CSBD).

We are theorists, but we closely collaborate with experimentalists, at MPI-CBG and beyond, on problems in theoretical biophysics, applied mathematics, and soft matter physics. Read more about our research projects.

Research Focus

We want to understand how the mechanical properties of individual cells arise from those of their constituents, and in turn give rise to mechanical properties at the level of the tissues that these cells form. Additionally, we want to understand how these mechanical properties affect and constrain tissue deformations during development. Key questions for out work are:

(1) How is robust development possible in spite of large amounts of biological variability and mechanical constraints?

(2) What are the continuum theories that describe biological tissues and the processes of cell migration and cell intercalation that they undergo during development?

Latest Research

Stabilisation of Microbial Communities by Responsive Phenotypic Switching

Haas et al., sub judice (2021, arXiv:2112.06256)

Clonal microbes can switch between different phenotypes and recent theoretical work has shown that stochastic switching between these subpopulations can stabilise microbial communities. This phenotypic switching need not be stochastic, however, but can also be in response to environmental factors, both biotic and abiotic. Here, motivated by the bacterial persistence phenotype, we explore the ecological effects of such responsive switching by analyzing phenotypic switching in response to competing species. We show how the stability of microbial communities with responsive switching differs generically from that of communities with stochastic switching only. To understand this effect, we go on to analyse simple two-species models. Combining exact results and numerical simulations, we extend the classical stability results for models of two competing species without phenotypic variation to the case where one of the two species switches, stochastically and responsively, between two phenotypes. In particular, we show that responsive switching can stabilise coexistence even when stochastic switching on its own does not affect the stability of the community.

We have postdoctoral positions and fully funded PhD student positions available!

Read more about our research interests in theoretical biophysics, mathematical biology, and beyond!