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April 2021


DBC News is a monthly publication that seeks to inform first and foremost faculty members, researchers and students. It also reaches out to a wider community - Department of Computational Biology partners, visiting faculty and friends.

Alongside the Department's website it is a complementary means of keeping abreast of the Department's rich and diversified scientific activities - visiting faculty, exceptional conferences, publications, awards, appointments, calls for papers and research, ...


The whole DBC extends the warmest of welcomes to new members.
Alma Dal Co
Alma Dal Co

Prof. Dal Co is joining the DBC as a Tenure-track assistant professor. Learn more about the Dalcolab

Prof. Dal Co, could you briefly comment on your research?

ADC: I am generally fascinated by how functionality arises in biological systems. Our group is interested in a variety of systems, from microbial communities to organs. We investigate principles that drive multicellular organization and function. We do single cell experiments with microbial communities and we collaborate with groups working on other multicellular systems. We build computational models to uncover how interactions between single cells drive collective behavior and function.

And what is your specific research topic within this field?

ADC: Our research focuses on two main directions. Our group is interested in microbial ecology. Microbial communities perform important processes on Earth. For example, microbial communities in the soil cycle the elements, and microbial communities in our guts shape our health and disease. The processes that these communities perform arise from interactions between species. A first central question in our research is: Can we predict the dynamics and function of microbial communities if we know how the individual microbes interact? We address this question with single-cell experiments and modeling. We measure how single cells interact inside microbial communities, often using microscopy and microfluidics. We model these communities as systems composed of parts - the cells - that interact in space. With these models, we elucidate how properties of microbial communities (e.g. collective metabolism, response to environmental fluctuations and stresses) arise from the interactions that we observe between the single cells.

Our group is interested in collective behaviour. A second central question in our research is: How are cells programmed to produce specific multicellular behaviour? This question applies to both multicellular microbial systems and multicellular organisms. Multicellular microbial systems and multicellular organisms may share general organisational principles. We use modeling to infer which physical and biological interactions between cells are required to achieve target collective behaviours. Our group combines machine learning approaches with single-cell experimental data to understand and engineer collective behaviour. We are excited to collaborate with experimental groups working on different systems

Could you give an example?

ADC: We recently measured the range at which cells interact within microbial communities. We found out that cells interact within a few micrometers, a distance comparable to their size. Interactions thus are local inside microbial communities (Dal Co et al, Nature Ecology and Evolution 2020). This experimental result points at the importance of studying microbial communities as spatial systems. The functioning of these microbial systems depends not only on which species are present but also on how they spatially organize. In our experiments with mutualistic microbial communities, where two species tend to help each other, cells grew better when they were surrounded by cells of the other species, rather than by cells of their own type. Like for humans, it is not always good to be surrounded by individuals that are just like you.


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