The Howard group combines simple, predictive mathematical modelling with long-lasting experimental collaborations, to dissect biological mechanisms too complex to unravel by experiments alone.
In many cases they are able rationalise complex biological dynamics into simple underlying mechanisms, with few components and interactions.
Their approach is highly interdisciplinary and relies heavily on the techniques of statistical physics and applied mathematics, as well as on close collaboration with experimental groups. This truly interdisciplinary approach allows them to get to the heart of biological mechanisms more speedily.
At present the main focus of the group is epigenetic dynamics, probing how epigenetic memory states are set up and then stably maintained. In this context, they work with both histone modification memory systems, as well as on DNA methylation, collaborating with experimentalists in systems ranging from plants to mammalian stem cells.
A particular focus has been the Polycomb epigenetic system, where they have proposed an all-or-nothing epigenetic switching mechanism, with epigenetic gene silencing directly antagonised by transcription.
The group also has interests in cell size control, using sizer mechanisms, both in plants and yeast.
The group is currently focusing on two main areas;
- How cells remember past events, through epigenetic memory systems
- How cells control their size, through sizer mechanisms
Previous high-profile work in the group has revealed a reaction-diffusion mechanism for mid-cell division in E. coli, surface area-based dynamics of a cell sizer molecule in fission yeast, an arithmetic division mechanism for metabolic timing and an all-or-nothing epigenetic switching mechanism, with epigenetic gene silencing directly antagonised by transcription.
Facchetti G., Knapp B., Flor-Parra I., Chang F., Howard M. (2019)Reprogramming Cdr2-Dependent Geometry-Based Cell Size Control in Fission YeastCurrent Biology (29)Publisher's version: 0960-9822
Antoniou-Kourounioti R. L., Hepworth J., Heckmann A., Duncan S., Qüesta J., Rosa S., Säll T., Holm S., Dean C., Howard M. (2018)Temperature sensing is distributed throughout the regulatory network that controls FLC epigenetic silencing in vernalizationCell Systems (7)Publisher's version: 2405-4712
Zhao Y,Antoniou-Kourounioti RL,Calder G,Dean C,Howard M (2020)Temperature-dependent growth contributes to long-term cold sensing.NaturePublisher's version: 0028-0836