Single cells sense their environment with remarkable precision. At the same time, cells have evolved diverse mechanisms for communicating. How are sensing and communication related? I will describe recent theoretical and experimental results in which this question is explored in several contexts, including gradient detection by groups of epithelial cells. I will show how communication allows cells to perform qualitatively new behaviors that single cells cannot perform alone. Moreover, I will demonstrate that mathematical modeling reveals fundamental limits to the precision of sensing, and that these limits are altered by cell-cell communication. This work extends the study of cellular information processing to collective ensembles.
Andrew Mugler received his PhD in physics at Columbia University in 2010 and did postdoctoral work at FOM Institute AMOLF and Emory University before beginning as an assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Purdue in 2014. His research uses theory and computation to understand how cell-cell communication gives rise to collective behaviors such as sensing, migration, and tissue-level changes. He is a 2015-2020 Simons Investigator in the Mathematical Modeling of Living Systems, and he maintains active collaborations with experimental groups investigating collective cellular phenomena.
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