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5 days of exploring the frontiers of math and biology

Last Update Dec 2013

Systems biology aims at constructing mathematical models of parts of organisms as they are today. Evolutionary biology aims at constructing mathematical models of parts of ecosystems as they are evolving. Both ask why life is as we see it today and both aim to base their models on observations and to use the language of mathematics to describe these observations, but both have been working quite separately. This workshop is about bringing researchers from both fields together to exchange ideas and develop new techniques that can benefit and merge both fields. The goal is to improve modeling techniques, to describe how cells and organisms change over time and, by extension, how their populations evolve over time.

Link to official BIRS website

Confirmed Participants at BIRS website

Latest Official workshop programme (May 24, 2013)

Final meeting report at BIRS website

Testimonials at BIRS website

Video recordings at BIRS website


Key dates:

  • 31 March 2013: Deadline for applying to the remaining places on the workshop. All places are full now. If you would still like to come, please let us know and we can put you on a waiting list or explore other options.

  • 30 April 2013: Abstract submission deadline for invited participants.
  • 26-31 May 2013: Workshop.



The workshop will be held at the Banff International Research Station for Mathematical Innovation and Discovery (BIRS), a collaborative Canada-US-Mexico venture that provides a beautiful natural environment for creative interaction and the exchange of ideas in the Mathematical Sciences.

How to get there is explained on the BIRS website.


Registration & Accommodation are covered:

You cannot register directly, as this workshop is by invitation only. However, we have a few places left that we want to open to whoever is willing to contribute an interesting abstract. Submit and we will let you know.

Our invitation covers your accommodation, your meals and what would be a conference fee, so you do not need to pay for any of these. However, you do need to arrange for your own travel.


Support for Travelling:

Unfortunately we do not have any funds to help you to travel to the workshop. It is up to you to find the funds and maybe this link from the BIRS website can help you:


Abstract submission for invited participants:

Please prepare a Word document containing a title for your contribution with affiliations and abstract (and anything else you might want to include). We have prepared a preformatted Word document to help you get started (and to reduce the formatting at our end).

Please email your abstract to Pat Pointer (, putting "Abstract for EvoSysBio BIRS" in your subject line. If you have any restriction in timing (e.g. you can only talk at certain days etc), please indicate this as well.

Abstract submission is now closed.

Workshop Program
Times and order of talks in the program are published here.


Workshop Objectives

This workshop aims at bringing together researchers from three domains: mathematics, systems biology, and evolutionary biology. Both systems biology and evolutionary biology constantly challenge mathematics because of the complexity of the systems they study. By bringing biologists from these two fields together with mathematicians, we plan to initiate the development of new mathematics to bring the two disciplines together and therefore strengthen the application of theory to biology.

Evolutionary systems biology is currently emerging as a hot, new topic in both systems biology and evolutionary biology. Technological advances in genome sequencing and in the quantitative study of single cells have fueled an enormous development of new theory in biology. The data these technologies create has allowed researchers to quantitatively assess why a biochemical system or a whole organism has its observed phenotype. In both disciplines, it is only now that these innovations have been assimilated within the discipline and that the overlaps and common goals between disciplines are being recognized.

The quantization of molecular biology is beginning to impact the more mathematically mature evolutionary biology, and techniques from evolutionary biology are being adopted by systems biologists, but such changes are happening piecemeal. The overall goal of our BIRS workshop is to catalyze this transition.

The time is ripe now to bring together experts for discussing mathematical techniques that are important to propel the field forwards. In particular, we will focus on:

  • Rigorous simulation mechanisms: forward simulations in systems biology and evolutionary biology and ecology frequently employ the same underlying techniques. Both disciplines will benefit from learning the `tricks' of the other.
  • Navigating complex model and parameter spaces: the high dimensional adaptive landscape of evolutionary biology and the high dimensional parameter space of models in systems biology will benefit from techniques that summarize important features of these spaces.
  • Hierarchical models: biochemical models describe what happens within cells, yet cells comprise basic building blocks for evolutionary models despite their inherent complexity. Multi-scale mathematics provides a means to combine these models and again would benefit both fields.
  • Inference techniques: estimating parameters and distinguishing between models are fundamental to both fields and methods developed in one are often straightforwardly applied to the other.

Workshop organizers

Ryan Gutenkunst
Molecular and Cellular Biology
1007 E Lowell St, LSS 527A
PO Box 210106
Tucson, AZ 85721, USA
Tel: +1 (520) 626-0569

Laurence Loewe
Evolutionary Systems Biology Group
Laboratory of Genetics and
Wisconsin Institute for Discovery
University of Wisconsin-Madison
330 North Orchard Street, Madison, WI 53715, USA
Tel: +1 (608) 316 4324

Peter Swain
SynthSys - Synthetic and Systems Biology
University of Edinburgh
Mayfield Road
Edinburgh EH9 3JD
Scotland, UK
Tel: +44 (131) 650 5451
Email: see