Biological and Bio-Inspired Information Theory (14w5170)

Arriving in Banff, Alberta Sunday, October 26 and departing Friday October 31, 2014


Toby Berger (University of Virginia)

(York University)

(Case Western Reserve University)


Currently, research in the community is organized into three streams:

  • Information theory and biochemistry (including information theory and intercellular communication);

  • Information theory and neuroscience; and

  • Information-theoretic analysis of biologically-inspired communication systems (including nanonetworking and design of biologically implemented information processing networks).

We propose a BIRS workshop to explore these streams, focusing on mathematical open problems that cut across the streams. The main objectives of this workshop would be: to bring together the most prominent researchers in this field; to discuss and review the current state of mathematical research in this field; to promote cross-pollination among the various streams of research to find common problems; and to collectively identify key future directions or open problems that would bring the greatest impact to this field over the next few years.

Expected impact

A BIRS workshop involving the field's leading researchers would allow a review of the current state of the art, and would promote cross-pollination among these three streams of research. We expect to have leading researchers in attendance.

Although the focus of our workshop is on mathematical fundamentals, our list of expected participants includes a few experimental scientists in addition to mathematical scientists. This is because quantitative application of information theoretic analysis to biological systems typically requires empirical estimation of joint probability distributions for multiple input and output variables, often posing daunting data collection challenges (see, e.g., [1], which pioneered the use of high-throughput experimental methods to collect large data sets quantifying the input/output relationships for a specific biochemical signaling pathway). We believe a blended approach, emphasizing mathematics but including experimental perspectives, will enhance the impact of our workshop and increase the usefulness to our participants.

Given that publications in these research areas have achieved prominence in the past few years, the time is right for a general meeting among the key researchers to review the state of the field and develop future directions. Thus, our proposed workshop is timely and would be expected to have a tremendous impact on the field over the next several years.

[1] R. Cheong, A. Rhee, C.J. Wang, I. Nemenman, and A. Levchenko, ``Information transduction capacity of noisy biochemical signaling networks,'' Science, Sep 2011.