The Rigi Workshop 2015 brought together mathematics, computer science and biology. The aim of this workshop was to present interesting, cutting-edge topics from the life sciences which require mathematical modeling to PhD students working at Swiss universities. Mathematical modeling is becoming more and more instrumental in life sciences; the data complexity and the high number of interacting components, from molecules to animals, render intuitive reasoning very difficult. The idea consists in formulating mathematically how certain biological units affect each other and how these interactions affect the whole system. Such quantitative modeling approaches produce mathematical models which are then implemented using computer software.
The resulting computational models use the available biological information and lead to quantitative predictions on the biological process itself. Unknown biological parameters can then be estimated with the modeling framework, and simulations of the model can lead to the discovery of previously unknown biological phenomena.
Interactions between living organisms or chemical molecules are ubiquitous, occur at all scales, and are amazingly complex. Without these constellations of exchanges of matter and information, organisms would not be able to function and reproduce. Interacting components are organized in networks, which lie at the heart of the lectures of this workshop, which focus on systems biology, cellular metabolism and ecology.
The scientific range of the short courses was very large, which explains the diversity of the participants. Most PhD students and Postdocs were working on mathematical modeling in biology, biochemistry, chemistry and mathematics. The quality and the diversity of the short courses gave the opportunity to the students to learn new mathematical models. The poster session was very successful, and generated very active scientific discussions. The students have been invited to present their research topics in short presentations (3 minutes). Although this might seem to be highly challenging and difficult, the student presentations were incredibly professional! The audience was in fact captivated all along; mathematical models were present in almost all presentations, proving that such inter-disciplinary meetings are more than welcome in life sciences and chemistry. The problem sessions were also appreciated, and included both theoretical modeling and programming.
Typical frameworks from life sciences involve large numbers of interacting species; the interactions are also defined using many parameters, and experimental results lead to the acquisition of huge data sets; mathematical models are therefore vital to understand these phenomena. These facts were well illustrated during the short courses, poster sessions and student presentations. Such highly inter-disciplinary meetings should be organized on a more regular basis in the future.
Prof. Christian Mazza, University of Fribourg
Prof. Jean-David Rochaix, University of Geneva
Dagmar Iber, Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering, ETH Zurich
Christian Mazza, Department of Mathematics, University of Fribourg
Oliver Ebenhöh, Institute for Quantitative and Theoretical Biology, University of Düsseldorf
Louis-Felix Bersier and Rudolf Rohr, Department of Biology, University of Fribourg