School of Mathematics

Orkun Soyer

Orkun Soyer abstract

Orkun Soyer, Life Sciences, University of Warwick

"Evolution as the designer in biology: From cellular networks to microbial communities"

Two key approaches in modern biology are systems and synthetic biology. Systems biology aims to understand cellular and organismal responses by studying the underlying molecular mechanisms as complex systems. Synthetic biology, on the other hand, aims to engineer such molecular systems from scratch for specific applications or for understanding natural systems better. 

Between these two powerful paradigms, a surprisingly neglected aspect is the fact that complex biological systems as well as their building blocks are the result of evolution. How can we explain evolution of complex biological systems such as signalling or metabolic pathways? Do common evolutionary processes, such as fluctuating environments, leave fingerprints in the architecture or dynamics of these systems? Are there inherent trade-offs in these systems , and if so, how does evolution work around such trade-offs? If we can answer these questions, can the resulting evolutionary insights be used to design novel biological systems in synthetic biology?

In the first part of this talk, I will illustrate computational and experimental approaches towards answering such questions and deciphering the evolutionary processes that can lead to complex cellular systems. Describing few recent projects in detail, I will also highlight the potential role of evolutionary insights for synthetic engineering of biology. In the second part of the talk, I will explore the applicability of an evolutionary view in biology across scales. In particular, I will draw parallels between cellular metabolic networks and microbial communities and explore the plausibility of using similar computational approaches in their analysis. This part of the talk will feature our preliminary work in a recent large-scale project on understanding and designing microbial communities involved in biomethane production.