How can systems with life-like characteristics be built from a minimal set of components? While progress has been made at the experimental level in developing artificial cells or systems with life-like properties, there is a lack of a theoretical underpinning that can offer mechanistic principles. With his ERC project CellGeom (The geometrical and physical basis of cell-like functionality), Frey aims to identify such principles. The basic question he wants to answer is: “How can we understand, at a mechanistic level, the emergence of life-like functions in minimal systems composed of elastic membranes and protein reaction networks that form protein patterns by processing information about the membrane geometry and reshaping the membrane through mechano-chemical feedback”.
Within the project, Frey whose research focuses on understanding the universal mechanisms of living systems wants to develop new theoretical concepts and innovative multi-scale approaches to understand the physical principles that underlie elementary biological functions. “This research will give us unprecedented insights into how living systems work. We will understand how the interplay between the elastic properties of cell membranes and the spatiotemporal self-organization of proteins leads to cell-like behaviors such as cell migration and cell division,” says Frey.
“My approach is to harness the power of nature's very own methods and leverage evolutionary algorithms to unveil design principles that can drive breakthrough advancements in the development of artificial cells”. Even more, the new approaches will allow him to analyze the potential of these minimal systems for the emergence of collective functions such as cell-cell communication. Frey expects this to yield new theoretical insights into the physical principles of biological functions, enabling him to furnish innovative suggestions for the rational design of systems with life-like functionalities.
Erwin Frey received his habilitation degree in theoretical physics at Technical University Munich in 1996, where he had also completed his doctoral studies. As a Heisenberg fellow, he conducted research at Harvard University, was a visiting professor at LMU, and held a full professorship at the Free University of Berlin. Subsequently, he also led the Theory Department at the Hahn-Meitner-Institute in Berlin before taking up an appointment as a Chair of Statistical and Biological Physics at LMU in 2004.
Prof. Erwin Frey
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität / ORIGINS Cluster