One of the main determent of the fitness of a biological system is its ability to sense multiple cues from the environment, interpret them correctly and respond accordingly. This signal processing process requires the integration of many inputs simultaneously. This task is inherently combinatorial – it takes place in a crowded chemical environment where the correct signal has to be discriminated from a background of similar competing signals. Moreover, the fact that at the heart of the information processing lie chemical reactions imposes inherent constrains and limits.
The problem of coping with multiple signals is crucial on the cellular level. To proliferate, cells must integrate multiple cues about nutrient availability from the environment and coordinate their metabolism accordingly. Impaired metabolism and nutrient sensing plays a major role in many diseases such as cancer, diabetes, obesity and neurodegeneration. In unicellular organism, where external environment is not regulated, errors in nutrient sensing and uptake can have large effects on growth.
Many questions still require a detailed answer: How cells coordinate their energetic requirement with nutrient availability in their environment? What are the metabolites that affect regulatory programs responsible for growth and proliferation? How age affects nutrient sensing?
Our goal is to study, both experimentally and theoretically, combinatorial signal processing and its failure in aged cells. We take a take a cross- interdisciplinary approach and use tools from experimental cell biology, Physics and Engineering such as using high throughput setups, microfluidics, genetics, signal processing theory and computational models.