Biological Physics Theory Unit (Greg Stephens)
The Biological Physics Theory Unit is pioneering a new field – the physics of behavior: from individual organisms to entire societies. While the science of the living world is mostly focused on the microscopic, such as the expression of genes or the pattern of electrical activity in our brains, all of these processes serve the greater evolutionary goals of the organism: to find food, avoid predators and reproduce. This is the behavioral scale, and despite it’s importance, our quantitative understanding of behavior is much less advanced. But how do we quantify the emergent dynamics of entire organisms? What principles characterize living movement? Research in our unit addresses these fundamental questions with a modern biophysics approach and model systems ranging from the nematode C. elegans to zebrafish and honeybee collectives. We combine theoretical ideas from statistical physics, information theory and dynamical systems and work in close collaboration with scientists from OIST and around the world to seek unifying principles form novel, quantitative experiments of organisms in natural motion.
Our work using convolutional neural networks to efficently resolve coiled worm posture is now available from PLOS Computational Biology! Congratulations to lead author, software engineer Laetitia Hebert, and to the rest of our worm team for a fabulous group effort. WormPose is open-source and can be installed from a Python package.
Our dynamical systems approach to understanding the posture dynamics of the nematode worm C. elegans is now published in Nature Physics. Nice reviews of the work can be found in Nature Physics News & Views and from the OIST communications team. Special congratulations to recent OIST PhD graduate, Tosif Ahamed, as this was a primary component of his thesis work.
Our Physics of Behavior virtual meeting (co-organized with G Berman of Emory University) centered on the question "Now that we can track (most) everything, what can we do with the data?", and was a wonderful success. Thank you to all participants! The meeting was recorded and is available through this link.