Date of Award:

2014

Document Type:

Dissertation

Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department:

Computer Science

Advisor/Chair:

Nicholas S. Flann

Co-Advisor/Chair:

Gregory J. Podgorski

Abstract

Systems biology takes a holistic approach to biological questions as it applies mathematical

modeling to link and understand the interaction of components in complex biological

systems. Multiscale modeling is the only method that can fully accomplish this aim. Mutliscale models consider processes at different levels that are coupled within the modeling framework. A first requirement in creating such models is a clear understanding of processes that operate at each level. This research focuses on modeling aspects of biological development as a complex process that occurs at many scales. Two of these scales were considered in this work: cellular differentiation, the process of in which less specialized cells acquired specialized properties of mature cell types, and morphogenesis, the process in which an organism develops its shape and tissue architecture. In development, cellular differentiation typically is required for morphogenesis. Therefore, cellular differentiation is at a lower scale than morphogenesis in the overall process of development. In this work, cellular differentiation and morphogenesis were modeled in a variety of biological contexts, with the ultimate goal of linking these different scales of developmental events into a unified model of development.

Three aspects of cellular differentiation were investigated, all united by the theme of how the dynamics of gene regulatory networks (GRNs) control differentiation. Two of the projects of this dissertation studied the effect of noise and robustness in switching between cell types during differentiation, and a third deals with the evaluation of hypothetical GRNs that allow the differentiation of specific cell types. All these projects view cell types as highdimensional attractors in the GRNs and use random Boolean networks as the modeling framework for studying network dynamics.

Morphogenesis was studied using the emergence of three-dimensional structures in biofilms as a relatively simple model. Many strains of bacteria form complex structures during growth as colonies on a solid medium. The morphogenesis of these structures was modeled using an agent-based framework and the outcomes were validated using structures of biofilm colonies reported in the literature.

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