I will be starting my group in 2018 at Washington University in St Louis. Visit my new website at www.tikhonovgroup.org.
I am a theoretical physicist working in microbial ecology, bioinformatics and statistical physics. My other interests include genetic regulatory networks, developmental biology and information theory.
I am currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) at Harvard University, working with Michael Brenner. I received my Ph.D. in Physics from Princeton University in 2014. My two advisors were William Bialek and Thomas Gregor, and I also worked with Ned Wingreen.
The bacteria on us and in us
The health of our planet, and our own, is shaped by microbial communities that harbor hundreds of coexisting "species". Despite all the sequencing efforts and the ever-increasing amount of data, we still know very little about them. The challenge is not just experimental and technological: it is also theoretical. How should we be describing these systems, when even the basic concepts of "species" and "fitness" become ill-defined for microbes? How do we link composition to function? To make progress, collecting more data is not enough: we need both theory and theory-driven experiments.
What I do
I ask three questions: Does high diversity lead to qualitatively new phenomena? Could high-diversity communities, in some ways, behave more predictably than those with low diversity? And finally, can we see this in an experiment? My theoretical work investigates the non-intuitive phenomenology of highly diverse microbial communities using methods of statistical physics of disordered systems (in collaboration with Remi Monasson). At the same time, I am engaged in data-driven projects and method development (high-resolution bioinformatics). I am fortunate to be collaborating with excellent experimentalists, most recently with Justin Sonnenburg at Stanford and Alvaro Sanchez at Yale.
Why I do it
Our understanding of the living matter is constrained by the intuition derived from our macroscopic experience. At our scale, organisms are clearly distinct from communities, and ecology from evolution. We believe that living matter is made of organisms, and organisms can be classified into species. But what if this intuition is simply wrong at the scale of microbial life? This is a very exciting possibility!
The tremendous success of physics rests on the tradition of using mathematics to extend our comprehension beyond the domain of intuitive. I think this tradition is the most important contribution that physics can bring to biology.