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  1. Virtually all forms of life, from single-cell eukaryotes to complex, highly differentiated multicellular organisms, exhibit a property referred to as symmetry. However, precise measures of symmetry are often difficult to formulate and apply in a meaningful way to biological systems, where symmetries and asymmetries can be dynamic and transient, or be visually apparent but not reliably quantifiable using standard measures from mathematics and physics. Here, we present and illustrate a novel measure that draws on concepts from information theory to quantify the degree of symmetry, enabling the identification of approximate symmetries that may be present in a pattern or a biological image. We apply the measure to rotation, reflection and translation symmetries in patterns produced by a Turing model, as well as natural objects (algae, flowers and leaves). This method of symmetry quantification is unbiased and rigorous, and requires minimal manual processing compared to alternative measures. The proposed method is therefore a useful tool for comparison and identification of symmetries in biological systems, with potential future applications to symmetries that arise during development, as observed in vivo or as produced by mathematical models. This article is part of the theme issue ‘Recent progress and open frontiers in Turing’s theory ofmore »morphogenesis’.« less
  2. Abstract In developmental biology as well as in other biological systems, emerging structure and organization can be captured using time-series data of protein locations. In analyzing this time-dependent data, it is a common challenge not only to determine whether topological features emerge, but also to identify the timing of their formation. For instance, in most cells, actin filaments interact with myosin motor proteins and organize into polymer networks and higher-order structures. Ring channels are examples of such structures that maintain constant diameters over time and play key roles in processes such as cell division, development, and wound healing. Given the limitations in studying interactions of actin with myosin in vivo, we generate time-series data of protein polymer interactions in cells using complex agent-based models. Since the data has a filamentous structure, we propose sampling along the actin filaments and analyzing the topological structure of the resulting point cloud at each time. Building on existing tools from persistent homology, we develop a topological data analysis (TDA) method that assesses effective ring generation in this dynamic data. This method connects topological features through time in a path that corresponds to emergence of organization in the data. In this work, we also proposemore »methods for assessing whether the topological features of interest are significant and thus whether they contribute to the formation of an emerging hole (ring channel) in the simulated protein interactions. In particular, we use the MEDYAN simulation platform to show that this technique can distinguish between the actin cytoskeleton organization resulting from distinct motor protein binding parameters.« less
  3. Studying the spread of infections is an important tool in limiting or preventing future outbreaks. A first step in understanding disease dynamics is constructing networks that reproduce features of real-world interactions. In this paper, we generate networks that maintain some features of the partial interaction networks that were recorded in an existing diary-based survey at the University of Warwick. To preserve realistic structure in our artificial networks, we use a context-specific approach. In particular, we propose different algorithms for producing larger home, work and social networks. Our networks are able to maintain much of the interaction structure in the original diary-based survey and provide a means of accounting for the interactions of survey participants with non-participants. Simulating a discrete susceptible–infected–recovered model on the full network produces epidemic behaviour which shares characteristics with previous influenza seasons. Our approach allows us to explore how disease transmission and dynamic responses to infection differ depending on interaction context. We find that, while social interactions may be the first to be reduced after influenza infection, limiting work and school encounters may be significantly more effective in controlling the overall severity of the epidemic.
  4. Mogilner, Alex (Ed.)
    Neurofilaments are abundant space-filling cytoskeletal polymers in axons that are transported along microtubule tracks. Neurofilament transport is accelerated at nodes of Ranvier, where axons are locally constricted. Strikingly, these constrictions are accompanied by sharp decreases in neurofilament number, no decreases in microtubule number, and increases in the packing density of these polymers, which collectively bring nodal neurofilaments closer to their microtubule tracks. We hypothesize that this leads to an increase in the proportion of time that the filaments spend moving and that this can explain the local acceleration. To test this, we developed a stochastic model of neurofilament transport that tracks their number, kinetic state, and proximity to nearby microtubules in space and time. The model assumes that the probability of a neurofilament moving is dependent on its distance from the nearest available microtubule track. Taking into account experimentally reported numbers and densities for neurofilaments and microtubules in nodes and internodes, we show that the model is sufficient to explain the local acceleration of neurofilaments within nodes of Ranvier. This suggests that proximity to microtubule tracks may be a key regulator of neurofilament transport in axons, which has implications for the mechanism of neurofilament accumulation in development and disease.