Reinhard Laubenbacher

Mathematics and the life sciences

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Abstract: The close connection between mathematics and the physical sciences during the past century has been of great benefit to both. New mathematics has been inspired by problems in physics, while physics benefited from the theoretical power of mathematics in fundamental ways. The relationship between mathematics and the life sciences has only recently deepened, due to an avalanche of new data ranging from the genomic to the geospatial scales. While the life sciences clearly benefit from the application of mathematical tools, can they, in turn, benefit mathematics in a way similar to physics? This talk will argue that the answer is “yes.” As evidence, the talk will outline a mathematical research program in dynamical systems theory, inspired by the key concept of modularity of biological systems. As an example of how mathematics can contribute to the life sciences, the talk will provide an example of mathematical modeling applied to the fundamental property of homeostasis in living systems: a multi-scale mathematical model integrates key mechanisms the immune system uses to disrupt iron homeostasis in the lungs to fight off a pathogens. This talk requires little specialized mathematical or biological knowledge, and is accessible for undergraduates.