Collaborations and training in integrative biology

The prevalence of first systems and then synthetic biology in BBSRC and wider UK research funding calls, the establishment of The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC), the fact that the term ‘big data’ is mentioned in nearly every meeting of any type about the biological sciences … all these point to the irreversible integration of mathematics into biology.

This blog post is for two groups of people: plant scientists who feel they lack the expertise to confidently maneuver in the world of integrative biology; and theoreticians either interested in plant science, or who would rather not have to spend quite as much time dealing with the mathematical problems of the plant scientists in their professional or non-professional circles. 

First, for plant scientists. There are a lot of training options for you to learn general or targeted skills, and many of them are free to attend – some even pay for your accommodation and food.

•  To learn the basics of mathematical modeling, the Centre for Integrative Plant Biology (CPIB) at the University of Nottingham run a Mathematical Modelling for Biologists workshop. It assumes no prior experience. In 2013, it was a four-day workshop, all-inclusive for £275.

•  TGAC run regular training workshops on different topics, with a bias to NGS analysis, and targeted at a range of expertise. The next open for registration is Analysing RNA-seq Data, which assumes some experience with R or Bioconductor. It will cost participants £60.

•  Software Carpentry Boot Camps give training in good practice in computer programming. If you use clumsy code that you can’t build on or easily share with your colleagues, this is the ideal training for you. Bootcamps vary in scope and target audience though, so if you’re a complete beginner it’s still worth checking out their calendar. On the whole, these are free events. We’re running a bootcamp for novice programmers in April – stay tuned for more information!





Collaborative workshops provide an opportunity for mathematicians and computer scientists to get stuck into a thorny plant science problem, plant scientists to get some expert theoretical input into their research, and for everyone involved to expand their networks over some free food.

•  CPIB have run Mathematics in the Plant Sciences Study Groups roughly every year since 2007. Plant scientists are invited to submit problems, usually modeling problems, and then theoreticians sign up to work on them. We always promote them, so if you’re on our email list or follow our social media, you’ll get all the information about the next one. The study groups are always free for everyone to attend, and run over one week.

•  The Software Sustainability Institute run an annual Collaborations Workshop giving wet-lab and theoretical scientists from every background a platform to discuss how best to interact and find opportunities for collaborations. The final day of the workshop is a hack day to develop collaborative ideas. I wrote a blog post for the SSI in April, so their community is ready for plant science collaborations and (maybe) even know what Arabidopsis is!

•  For established bio-maths collaborations, the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences accepts proposals for one, four or six month research programmes in any branch of the mathematical sciences. Up to £40 000 a month is available for travel and subsistence for around 20 participants, including the organisers. This really is a diverse scheme, but inter-disciplinary proposals are encouraged – a programme on the dynamics of microbial communities is starting in August 2014.





Image credit: Valium88 via stock.xchng

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