Cellular Dynamics & Models Meeting

Visitor of the Week: Parul Maheshwari


Meet Parul Maheshwari of the Pennsylvania State University! A member of Prof. Reka Albert’s lab, the graduate student participated in this week’s Cellular Dynamics & Models meeting. And at her first meeting in CSHL, she presented a talk titled “Causal logic analysis of a dynamic model of plant signaling uncovers new, experimentally verified regulation”.

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
My research interests are modeling and simulation of intracellular biological networks. I am currently working on improvising a Boolean network model for guard cell signaling which models the closing of stomata in response to abscisic acid (ABA).

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
I had worked on causal logic analysis of Boolean networks earlier and I was looking for an interesting biological network to apply this method to. The ABA network is one of the few networks that have a great scope of iterative experimental and simulations-based analysis and the questions currently posited with this model have significant correlation with the theoretical understanding of the underlying network structure and dynamics. Hence, causal logic analysis of the different versions of this model proved to be definitely an interesting way of understanding the biological likelihood of those model versions.

How did your scientific journey begin?
In high school, I visited the space research center in my town (Ahmedabad, India) where some of the scientists that work there showed some really amazing pictures they’d taken during their work. It actually motivated me to pursue astronomy which turned into an aspiration to pursue astrophysics. However, different courses in college changed my interests over time and led me to biophysics.

Was there something specific about the Cellular Dynamics & Models meeting that drew you to attend?
It was mostly encouraged by my colleagues who had been to this meeting in the past. They told me of how this meeting is very relevant to my work and encouraged me to attend.

What is your key takeaway from the meeting?
While I have been working with intracellular networks during most of grad school, the work presented at this conference made me realize the major significance, complexity and variety of cellular dynamics research. In addition, and though not a direct takeaway, this meeting made me realize that--especially as a grad student--it is highly important to be involved in research that excites you more than anything else.

What did you pick up or learn from the meeting that you plan to apply to your work?
I learned about various approaches to model intracellular networks and it definitely encouraged me to think in a certain way to approach the research problems I am currently working on. I also met with people who are working on very similar systems as I am and I think these interactions could lead to a fruitful collaboration at some point!

If someone curious in attending a future iteration of this meeting asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
I would advise that this meeting pertains to a rather specific topic of cellular dynamics and model and if their work is related to it, they’ll likely get a lot of interest and feedback here. Not only are most attendees highly enthusiastic about their own work, they are also very interested in everyone else’s work. Especially when it comes to giving a talk, your experience is a lot improved if the audience is highly interested in what you’re speaking.

This is your first meeting at CSHL - what did you think it?
This CSHL meeting itself is a lot like what I’d imagined it would be like. It is small but still full of varied presentations. I expected the laboratory itself to be more like a tall building located on the harbor but I am surprised and very pleased by the fact that this place is a lot more spread out, rustic, and integrated with its surroundings; plus a beautiful hiking trail and beach area!

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
I love the location of the Cold Spring Harbor Lab--it is very serene and calming! I am also having a lot of fun talking with the other graduate students attending this meeting. We’ve found ourselves discussing a lot of non-science stuff like popular and social dynamics, politics, etc. It is interesting how I have met many other graduate students here whose major is not biology but other relevant sciences like Math, Computer Science, Physics, etc.

Thank you to Parul for being this week's featured visitor. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course - go here.

A Word From: James Faeder

L to R: Jorge Zanudo, Carlos Lopez, James Faeder

L to R: Jorge Zanudo, Carlos Lopez, James Faeder

This week, we hosted the biennial meeting on Cellular Dynamics & Models, which brings together experimental cell biologists with mathematical and computational scientists. It debuted at CSHL in the mid-2000's as the Computational Cell Biology meeting, and one of the features that makes it unique is the integration of software tutorials into the regular program. James Faeder, a longtime participant in the meeting, organized a tutorial at the 2015 meeting on a software package his research group developed to model and visualize biochemical reaction networks (BioNetGen), and he helped organize the entire meeting this year. We caught up with James for a quick Q&A regarding the meeting and its tutorials. 

We have a great collection of leading researchers in the modeling community -- people who are developing all kinds of advanced tools for doing mechanistic modeling, statistical modeling, and discovery -- and we then combine many of those people with leading experimentalists who have a quantitative orientation, either in cell biology and molecular biology, to study signal transduction or metabolic regulation. By bringing these people together and getting them to talk, I think we foster a lot of new collaborations.

Actually, I was talking this afternoon at lunch with Tom Pollard and he said, “You know, I know about half of the people here and the other half is new.” It’s really great to be interacting with new people and learning new things about what people are doing. And you know many of these people are working on related fields. Maybe they’re studying different organisms so that you haven’t encountered them at the standard meetings you would go to, or maybe they’re studying slightly different molecules, or they’re using different methods, so we really learn a lot from each other.

Here's what James had to say about the tutorials:

This year we took tutorials from the abstracts and we had nice a turn out. That people want to do that and reach this community, I think is a sign that the idea of the tutorials is gathering momentum...It’s a great opportunity for people who do primarily experimental biology to come and learn about some of the tools, or for other modelers to learn about innovative things that other software developers are doing in the modeling community. 

Thank you to James for taking the time to chat with us; and for more conversations with our other meeting organizers and course instructors, go here. If you're interested in learning more about what else James is working on, make sure to visit his lab's website

Cellular Dynamics & Models will be back at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in 2019.