Molecules Come to Life

This initiative is jointly sponsored by Research Corporation for Science Advancement and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. It will be a two year program involving early career scientists from physics and biology interested in pursuing collaborative, high risk, highly impactful discovery research on untested ideas in physical cell biology.

The focus of this Scialog is on the quantitative connection between molecular phenomena and phenomena at the cellular systems level. Potential questions include: What are the fundamental principles that make a collection of molecules within a cell produce behaviors that we associate with life? How do molecules combine and dynamically interact to form functional units in cells? How do metabolism and signaling lead to cellular homeostasis? Can non-equilibrium thermodynamics provide a deeper understanding of cellular processes? While the molecular building blocks that make up the actin cytoskeleton and their binding interactions have been well studied in isolation, how do these interactions combine to produce cell motility in response to a chemical cue? How do cells make decisions about which genes to express? What are the laws that govern the size and shape of organelles? What are the principles by which cells spatially organize their functions? How is cell polarity established? What are the principles of folding, aggregation and proteostasis in cells? 

Scialog aims to encourage collaborations between theorists and experimentalists. And, we encourage approaches that are driven by theory and principles and coarse-grained modeling, that are testable by experiments. We look to spark collaborations that embrace modeling at the big-picture level, rather than of unnecessary details, or individual circuits, and experimental work that investigates the predictions of such modeling. We want to catalyze the development of a community in which theory informs experiment, with both working together to achieve understanding of fundamental cellular processes.

Two Scialog conferences in spring 2015 and 2016 are planned for this initiative. The conferences will be attended by about 50 early career and 15 distinguished senior scientists, with the goal of identifying bottlenecks, finding avenues for breakthroughs, and building new scientific teams to pursue these ideas. The highly interactive conference format includes a limited number of keynote presentations to outline the outstanding research challenges in the multidisciplinary field of focus, and a number of small group discussions to encourage participant interactions. Participants have the opportunity to form teams and write collaborative proposals “on-the-spot” to seed highly innovative ideas that emerge from the dialog. We anticipate supporting up to five awards per meeting.  We also anticipate additional funding for the most successful projects after a year of work.

Participation in Molecules Come to Life is by invitation.