Do Cells Act Like Crowds?

Question: Do cellular collectives behave like animal groups in any way?

Iain Couzin: Well, we are just beginning to start working on collective behavior at the cell level. We're sort of particularly inspired by some recent discoveries with soft body tumors and so we're very interested in issues of leadership and consensus decision making based upon our understanding of local rules. So although we started with animal groups and, you know, we work with animal groups extensively, I think these types of understanding actually allow us to get a different type of insight into cellular systems, and so this is a very new exciting sort of direction for my laboratory.

Question: What practical applications might this research have?

Iain Couzin: Well, we're certainly looking at cancer, we're interested in how and why collective migration is so common. So until relatively recently, it wasn't realized that, you know, collective behavior is so prevalent in soft body tumors. And now it's seen as one of the primary modes of spreading. And so that's something we want to understand.

And another very interesting aspect to tumors is the sort of the level at which selection is acting. So we're trying to simulate using new computational simulations, we're trying to simulate very large aggregates, where we can keep track of individual identities, we can look at mutations, we can see how this leads to individual behaviors that then scales up to a collective phenomenon. So as I mentioned, it's a new area for us. You know, we're still heavily working on animal groups, but it's very exciting to think that there really is this cross-understanding because the evolutionary principles and the principles of understanding how interactions scale to collective behavior, tend to be relatively universal.

Recorded on December 15, 2009
Interviewed by Austin Allen

Cutting-edge research that suggests small and large-scale biological collectives behave similarly promises to deepen our understanding of cancer.

Live on Monday: Does the US need one billion people?

What would happen if you tripled the US population? Join Matthew Yglesias and Charles Duhigg at 1pm ET on Monday, September 28.

Universe works like a cosmological neural network, argues new paper

Controversial physics theory says reality around us behaves like a computer neural network.

Credit: sakkmesterke
Surprising Science
  • Physicist proposes that the universe behaves like an artificial neural network.
  • The scientist's new paper seeks to reconcile classical physics and quantum mechanics.
  • The theory claims that natural selection produces both atoms and "observers".
Keep reading Show less

Learn innovation with 3-star Michelin chef Dominique Crenn

Dominique Crenn, the only female chef in America with three Michelin stars, joins Big Think Live.

Big Think LIVE

Having been exposed to mavericks in the French culinary world at a young age, three-star Michelin chef Dominique Crenn made it her mission to cook in a way that is not only delicious and elegant, but also expressive, memorable, and true to her experience.

Keep reading Show less

We studied what happens when guys add their cats to their dating app profiles

43% of people think they can get a sense of someone's personality by their picture.

Photo by Luigi Pozzoli on Unsplash
Sex & Relationships

If you've used a dating app, you'll know the importance of choosing good profile pics.

Keep reading Show less

‘Time is elastic’: Why time passes faster atop a mountain than at sea level

The idea of 'absolute time' is an illusion. Physics and subjective experience reveal why.

ESA
Surprising Science
  • Since Einstein posited his theory of general relativity, we've understood that gravity has the power to warp space and time.
  • This "time dilation" effect occurs even at small levels.
  • Outside of physics, we experience distortions in how we perceive time — sometimes to a startling extent.
Keep reading Show less

Quarantine rule breakers in 17th-century Italy partied all night – and some clergy condemned the feasting

17th-century outbreaks of plague in Italy reveal both tensions between religious and public health authorities.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Coronavirus

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, conflicts between religious freedom and public health regulations have been playing out in courts around the world.

Keep reading Show less
Quantcast