Just over a century ago, the biologist, mathematician and philologist D’Arcy Thompson wrote “On growth and form”. The book – a literary masterpiece – is a visionary synthesis of the geometric biology of form. It also served as a call for mathematical and physical approaches to understanding the evolution and development of shape. In the century since its publication, we have seen a revolution in biology following the discovery of the genetic code, which has uncovered the molecular and cellular basis for life, combined with the ability to probe the chemical, structural, and dynamical nature of molecules, cells, tissues and organs across scales. In parallel, we have seen a blossoming of our understanding of spatiotemporal patterning in physical systems, and a gradual unveiling of the complexity of physical form. So, how far are we from realizing the century-old vision that “Cell and tissue, shell and bone, leaf and flower, are so many portions of matter, and it is in obedience to the laws of physics that their particles have been moved, moulded and conformed” ?
To address this requires an appreciation of the enormous ‘morphospace’ in terms of the potential shapes and sizes that living forms take, using the language of mathematics. In parallel, we need to consider the biological processes that determine form in mathematical terms is based on understanding how instabilities and patterns in physical systems might be harnessed by evolution.
In Fall 2018, CMSA will focus on a program that aims at recent mathematical advances in describing shape using geometry and statistics in a biological context, while also considering a range of physical theories that can predict biological shape at scales ranging from macromolecular assemblies to whole organ systems.
The first workshop will focus on the interface between Morphometrics and Mathematics, while the second will focus on the interface between Morphogenesis and Physics.
As part of the program on Mathematical Biology a workshop on Morphogenesis: Geometry and Physics will take place on December 3-6, 2018.