Institute of Biological and Chemical Systems - Biological Information Processing

Research Activities

Research Program

Cells and multicellular organisms have long been recognized as sophisticated information processors. They sense and integrate external signals in order to adapt to environmental changes and to communicate with other cells and organisms. To reach decisions, they process symbolic information according to logical rules, and as such can be compared to man-made computers. However, biological systems evolved over billions of years and differ from man-made systems in design and function: biological systems are distributed probabilistic devices that compute information at multiple levels, ranging from single proteins to cellular networks. These features endow biological systems with superior robustness of function, conferring on them in particular an exceptional adaptability to environmental changes, the capacity to either exploit or filter out noise, and continuing operation despite failure of system components. The underlying architectures of biological systems represent a rich source of inspiration for the future development of novel soft- and hardware architectures. A prerequisite to the technological exploitation of these systems and their architectures is to fully understand the molecular and cellular hardware, the biological computational rules, and the underlying algorithms.

Within IBCS-BIP, we combine expertise in genetics and gene regulation, simulation and modeling, neurobiology and biophysics, at the molecular, cellular, and organismal levels. This, together with our unique combination of infrastructure places us in a perfect position to achieve our global aim of a detailed quantitative understanding of biological information processing on multiple scales. Apart from conventional applications in biotechnology and medicine, this knowledge will also pave the way towards future application in information technology. We foresee, in particular, the implementation of bio-inspired, or even biological parts in computing devices.

Main Research Areas

Figure 1: Bioluminescence assay showing the light stimulus response of a reporter gene in zebrafish cell cultures.

Molecular Information Processing: we explore the molecular mechanisms of sensing and transmission of various cellular inputs, and how they are processed and converted into specific outputs.

Information Storage and Processing in the Cell Nucleus: we explore the principles of information encoding, storage, and retrieval in the nucleus, and how this information is converted into cellular and organismal outputs.

Deployment and Maintenance of Organismal Processing Systems: we assess how cellular functions are integrated throughout neuronal and vascular networks during development and remodeling in response to challenges to the organism.

Main Approaches and Tools

  • Molecular cell biology
  • Fish models of genetics and development (zebrafish, medaka, cavefish)
  • Advanced imaging and optical manipulation methods
  • Automated screening (-> Screening center)
  • Multi-omics characterization
  • Theoretical modelling and computer simulation