My interest is the emergence of functionality in complex biological systems.
I am generally interested in the dynamics of complex systems, such as multicellular organisms and microbial communities. My main question is how functionality of these systems arises from interactions between their members. I work on a variety of systems, from organs to microbial communities. For example, I recently addressed the question: What can we say about the dynamics of microbial communities if we know how individual cells interact with each other? I measured how cells interact inside microbial communities using time-lapse microscopy and microfluidics. I modelled these communities as systems composed of entities - the cells - that interact in space via the exchange of biochemical compounds. This work elucidated how properties of microbial communities (e.g. collective metabolism, response to environmental fluctuations and stresses) arise from the molecular activities of the single cells.
For my publications check out my Google Scholar page.
Reconstructing interactions in synthetic bacterial communities. a) A synthetic bacterial consortium consisting of two Escherichia coli strains (in purple and yellow) that need to exchange amino acids in order to grow. b) The two strains grow together as a monolayer in microfluidic devices. We grow the systems for four days acquiring pictures every ten minutes with automated fluorescence microscopy. c) Cells are segmented and tracked using software that we developed. Quantitative traits are measured in time; here single-cell growth rate is depicted as a heat map, with fast growing cells in brighter colors. This analysis allows us to calculate the interaction range of cells, that is, the spatial range over which single cells interact metabolically. The interaction range of the two cell types is depicted for two individual cells [Dal Co et al., Nature Ecology and Evolution (2020) https://rdcu.be/b1tNj].