Join us at KiTP EcoEvo workshop August 2020.  

3/2020 -- Karna's virtual APS talk is online here!

1/20 -- Seppe gives the Complex Systems seminar at Northwestern

12/19 -- Paper on higher order interactions out in Cell Systems, with commentary from Alvaro Sanchez.

11/2019 -- Chandana passes her prelim!


Quantitative Ecology and Evolution

Physics @ Illinois

What we do:  The existence and persistence of life on Earth is one of the most remarkable and least well understood natural phenomena.  Evolution has constructed persistent and functional biological systems from the molecular to organismal and ecological scales.  How has the process of evolution generated these systems and why they are structured the way they are?  We are asking these questions at the ecological level using microbial communities.  In particular: How do microbial communities function?  What are the molecular mechanisms?  Why has evolution resulted in the microbial community structures we observe in Nature? 


The incredible successes of physics in describing non-living matter have taught us that we must do phenomenology first -- that is, provide quantitative, phenomenological, descriptions of precisely how microbial communities function.  In essence, we need to establish which are the right variables to describe microbial community structure and function.  Armed with this knowledge we can then ask - what are the molecular and mechanistic bases of these variables?  Finally, why has the evolutionary process resulted in the collective variables we observe?  To accomplish this we:

(1) Study ensembles of communities with well-defined functional properties and uncover the relevant variables for mapping structure to function using statistical and phenomenological methods.

(2) Understand what molecular players and mechanisms are responsible for the collective variables describing community structure and function -- interactions, gene expression, metabolism.

(3)  Using synthetic communities in the laboratory and observations on natural ecosystems we hope to determine why the structure-function relationships we observe in (1) and the mechanisms of (2) are present in natural microbial ecosystems.

We ask the questions posed above in three related types of microbial communities where the structure (taxonomic, metagenomic, abundances) and function (metabolic) are sharply defined and quantifiable:

(1) Denitrifying bacterial communities.

(2) Self-sustaining closed microbial biospheres.

(3) Phototroph-heterotroph microbial communities.

We are a group of physicists, applied mathematicians and biologists.  We are always looking for new members who are excited about biology, ecology and making new measurements - get in touch! 


Our group is part of the Center for the Physics of Living Cells, Center for Biophysics and Quantitative Biology, and the Carl Woese Institute for Genomic Biology. We work in the Department of Physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.