The Mugler Group investigates cell behavior using theoretical physics. We rely on a wide range of tools including statistical physics, stochastic modeling, and information theory. We tackle problems that range from the molecular to the multicellular scale, often in collaboration with experimental groups. Current projects include:
Collective sensing. Cells sense chemicals in their environment and also communicate, but the impact of communication on sensing is poorly understood. We are using tools from statistical physics to develop a unified theory of collective sensing.
Metastatic invasion. Cancer metastasis begins when tumor cells invade the surrounding tissue. We are investigating metastatic invasion using theory, simulation, and microfluidic experiments with collaborators.
Long-range signaling. Cellular communities transmit signals over long distances, but noise or defects can cause these signals to die out. We have discovered that these systems are well described by percolation theory, a branch of statistical physics that describes coffee filtering and crack formation.
Criticality in biology. The molecular networks that process information in cells share many properties with critical points from statistical physics, but the implications for cell behavior are poorly understood. We are investigating critical behavior in biochemical networks and comparing our findings to experiments in immune cells.
- Cell-cell communication enhances the capacity of cell ensembles to sense shallow gradients during morphogenesis. D Ellison, A Mugler, M Brennan*, SH Lee, R Huebner, E Shamir, LA Woo, J Kim, P Amar, I Nemenman, AJ Ewald, A Levchenko. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 13:E679 (2016).
- Fundamental limits to collective concentration sensing in cell populations. S Fancher, A Mugler. Physical Review Letters 118:078101 (2017).
- Emergent versus individual-based multicellular chemotaxis. J Varennes, S Fancher, B Han, A Mugler. Physical Review Letters 119:188101 (2017).
- Signal percolation within a bacterial community. JW Larkin, X Zhai, K Kikuchi, S Redford, A Prindle, J Liu, S Greenfield, AM Walczak, J Garcia-Ojalvo, A Mugler, G M. Süel. Cell Systems 7:137 (2018).
- Universality of biochemical feedback and its application to immune cells. A Erez, TA Byrd, RM Vogel, G Altan-Bonnet, A Mugler. Physical Review E 99:022422 (2019).