Theoretical Biology & Bioinformatics

tree of life
Kirsten ten Tusscher

Kirsten ten Tusscher

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Research projects

If you are enthusiastic about the combination of biology and modeling and interested in doing a computational biology research project on one of the below subjects you are most welcome to contact me.

  • Directional growth of plant roots: Plants can adapt the growth direction of their stems and roots in response to environmental stimuli. As an example plant roots grow towards gravity, but away from a patch of saline soil. To grow towards or away from a signal, the root needs to bend, meaning it has to grow asymmetrically. This growth asymmetry is typically caused by an asymmetry in the growth hormone auxin. Using a model of the root tip describing the anatomy of the plant root tip as well as how plant cells synthesize, degrade and transport auxin, in this project you can investigate how plants sense differences in salt concentrations across their roots and use this to generate such an auxin asymmetry. The project will involve working with differential equations and C++ model code to adapt the existing model, and analysing and plotting model outcomes.
  • Adaptation of plant root architecture to nutrient patterns: Plants can not only adapt the direction of growth of individual roots (see above) to environmental conditions. Additionally they can adjust the growth rate of the main root, and the numbers, density and angles of lateral roots. As an example, if nitrate or phosphate is present in certain parts of the soil but not others, root growth and branching is enhanced in the nutrient rich and suppressed in the nutrient poor soil patches. Depending on your preferences in this model we can either look at models of individual roots (as above) to investigate in detail how their growth depends on local nutrient conditions or look at models of the entire root system, describing its actual growth and branching, to see how its overall patterning emerges from the interplay of different local nutrient levels and plant level nutrient status. The project will involve working with differential equations, and either C++ or XML model code to adapt the existing model as well as analysing and plotting model outcomes
  • Developmental patterning of plant roots
  • Developmental patterning in animals
  • Evolution of patterning networks