BE 150/Bi 250b project ideas, Winter 2013

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This page contains a list of course project ideas for BE 150/Bi 250b, Winter 2013.


  • Each student should send e-mail no later than 4 Feb (Mon) with the following information
    • Course: (BE 150/Bi 250b/Audit)
    • Up to three project preferences (use titles from project listings)
    • Optional preferred partner (both students should e-mail identical preferences)
  • Students will work in pairs, with most teams consisting of a BE 150 student and a Bi 250b student
  • To propose your own project, please e-mail a 1-2 page proposal in addition to at least two project preferences selected from the list of course projects

Digit patterning

Idea: build a reaction diffusion model to replicate the results in the paper, showing how multiple digit patterns can be generated in mice. Show how to tune the number of digits on the hand by progressively removing copies of a hox gene. Discuss this as evidence for a turing type patterning process (with modeling).

Note: This is a pretty difficult project. You should probably only select it if you already know about reaction diffusion models (we will cover this in Weeks 7-8)

Scaling of embryonic patterning

Idea: this paper shows an ex vivo model of the presomitic mesoderm wave propagation system for simile patterning, ie they cut some of these cells out from the mouse embryo and show that they can still make segments similar to in vivo. They then use the system to show that there is scaling of number and size of segments with overall explant size. Reproduce the model used in the paper and explore the application of the principles that we covered in class to provide some insight into this behavior.

Note: this problem will require some iteration with the instructors to make the goals more concrete.

Robustness and tunability comparison for synthetic oscillators

Idea: put together models of different types of oscillators in E. coli using a consistent set parameters. Explore parameter sensitivity, noise attenuation and behavioral diversity in each and comment on the relevant robustness and tunability of each circuit. Answer, once and for all, the question of whether the repressilator is robust or fragile.

Robustness and loading effects in MAPK cascades

In class we showed that one of the advantages of a two component signaling system and multi-stage MAPK cascades is that you can get higher input/output gain. Another potential benefit of such constructs may be the robustness to downstream loads as well as insensitivity to noise and parameters. Construct models of a set of different signalling mechanisms and explore some of these tradeoffs.

Feedback loops operating at different time scales (EDLS)

Explore feedback loops operating on different time scales and look at the effect of this on pulses with different frequencies. Possible extensions to the model can include: effect of multiple feedback loops, looking at the entire frequency response curve or doing sensitivity analysis on the different parameters.

    • Zi, Z., Liebermeister, W. & Klipp, E. A quantitative study of the Hog1 MAPK response to fluctuating osmotic stress in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. PloS one 5, e9522 (2010).

Utilization of a conserved resource (EDLS)

The papers above show correlations between seemingly independent outputs because of crosstalk due to limitations of a shared resource. Explore this in more detail or look at another limited shared resource.

Note: If you choose this project, you might find it useful to talk to Dan Siegal-Gaskins, a post-doc in the Murray Lab, for possible extensions/modeling ideas.

Asymmetric positive feedback (VH)

  • Paper:
  • Idea: Positive feedback is one of the central components of biological circuits. In this paper by Ratushny et al, they analyze the effects of having asymmetrical positive feedback loops, in which only one of the molecules in a heterodimer is self-upregulates. In the paper, they mention a number of biological systems with this circuit motif. Choose one of the examples which is not demonstrated in the paper with which to perform a thorough analysis. Model the system to include additional features other than the ASSURE system and compare that to a model in which there is symmetrical upregulation. How does this affect the behavior of your system? What implications does it have for the organism as a whole?

Propose you own project

Guidelines: propose a project that involves reading a set of papers in the literature and performing some modeling and analysis to propose a testable hypothesis about the behavior of the system you investigate. Your writeup should include a list of 1-3 papers along with a short (1-2 sentence summary of their main results), followed by a 1-2 paragraph description of the question you propose to explore. All proposals must be submitted by a 2 person team, ideally with one student in Bi 250b and one student in BE 150.