Centre-Finding in E. coli and the Role of Mathematical Modelling: Past, Present and Future

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We review the key role played by mathematical modelling in elucidating two centre-finding patterning systems in E. coli: midcell division positioning by the MinCDE system and DNA partitioning by the ParABS system. We focus particularly on how, despite much experimental effort, these systems were simply too complex to unravel by experiments alone, and instead required key injections of quantitative, mathematical thinking. We conclude the review by analysing the frequency of modelling approaches in microbiology over time. We find that while such methods are increasing in popularity, they are still probably heavily under-utilised for optimal progress on complex biological questions.