Statistical physics of living systems

Welcome to the Statistical Physics of Living Systems group

The development and maintenance of tissues requires the tightly regulated interplay of many cells. But how do these cells self-organise in order to build complex structures such as the heart or the brain? To achieve this the fate of each cell must be precisely regulated. Understanding the mechanistic principles underlying the behaviour of stem and progenitor cells is not only pivotal for the development of stem cell based therapies in regenerative medicine, but also gives rise to challenging questions at the frontier of non equilibrium physics. In collaboration with experimental groups we use methods from statistical physics to study mechanisms of cell fate regulation in tissue development, maintenance and disease. Read more about our research.

The Statistical Physics of Living Systems group was started in 2017 and is embedded into the Biological Physics division of the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems and the Center for Systems Biology in Dresden (Germany). The group maintains close collaborations with experimental groups on the local and international level.

Research highlights

Scaling and universality of clone dynamics during tissue development

Despite the complexity of organ development, clonal dynamics may converge to a critical state characterized by universal scaling behaviour of clone sizes. Our work allows to identify experimental strategies that unveil cell fate behaviour during development and tumour growth.

Nature Physics 14, 469-474 (2018)

Epigenetic dynamics during embryonic development

DNA methylation is the primary layer of modifications of the DNA. We found that during the early stages of embryonic development these epigenetic marks undergo collective (genome-wide) oscillations. Our work shows that epigenetic changes can be surprisingly dynamic and it highlights how mechanistic understanding of cellular decision making can be obtained by combining single-cell genomics with non-equilibrium physics. 

Cell Systems 7(1), p63-76 (2018)

Design principles of pattern forming systems

What are the molecular mechanisms of robust embryonic patterning? We studied design principle of gene regulatory networks subject to intrinsic noise and extrinsic perturbations.

Physical Review Letters 110, 038102 (2013)