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Biological Systems as Communication Networks

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Prof. Ramji Venkataramanan.

Significant progress has been made, of late, on fundamental problems across many areas of biology – in particular, biological interaction and signaling. Two important questions remain elusive. How do complex networks of simple organisms form in order to perform sophisticated tasks? What are the underlying signaling mechanisms that enable the formation and operation of such networks? Concepts and methods from information theory and communication theory offer some hope in providing abstractions and tools that can enable basic understanding of these two questions as well as determine fundamental limitations. The definition of communication in the biological context is vague and can be considered as “the transfer of information from one cell or molecule to another via chemical, mechanical, or electrical signals,” or more broadly as “an activity by one organism that changes the behavior of another.” Given the enormous diversity of organisms, there is an equally large number of communication systems that can be studied, and not all systems yield to a communication- or information-theoretic lens. To this end, we shall consider microbial ecosystems which contain a number of communication/information theoretic architectures. Microbial communities play a significant role in infection, bioremediation, plant growth promotion, human and animal digestion, the carbon cycle, cleaning water and microbial fuel cells. Two canonical multi-terminal structures are of importance: multi-hopped networks motivated by bacterial cables, and ad hoc multi-terminal networks as proxies for biofilms and quorum sensing. In this talk, we explore how a communication- and information-theoretic framework can be used to understand — and possibly design — biological systems.

BIO: Urbashi Mitra received the B.S. and the M.S. degrees from the University of California at Berkeley and her Ph.D. from Princeton University. She is currently a Dean’s Professor of Electrical Engineering at the Department of Electrical Engineering at the University of Southern California (USC), Los Angeles. She is the inaugural Editor-in-Chief for the IEEE Transactions on Molecular, Biological and Multi-scale Communications. Dr. Mitra is a Distinguished Lecturer for the IEEE Communications Society for 2015-2017. She is a member of the IEEE Information Theory Society’s Board of Governors (2002-2007, 2012-2017) and the IEEE Signal Processing Society’s Technical Committee on Signal Processing for Communications and Networks (2012-2016). Dr. Mitra is a Fellow of the IEEE . She is the recipient of: a 2016 United Kingdom Royal Academy of Engineering, Distinguished Visiting Fellowship, a 2015 US Fulbright Scholar Award, a 2016-2017 Leverhulme Trust Visiting Professorship Fellowship, a 2015 Insight Magazine STEM Diversity Award, 2012 Globecom Signal Processing for Communications Symposium Best Paper Award, 2012 US National Academy of Engineering Lillian Gilbreth Lectureship, USC Center for Excellence in Research Fellowship (2010-2013), the 2009 DCOSS Applications and Systems Best Paper Award, Texas Instruments Visiting Professor (Fall 2002, Rice University), 2001 Okawa Foundation Award, 2000 OSU College of Engineering Lumley Award for Research, 1997 OSU College of Engineering MacQuigg Award for Teaching, and a 1996 National Science Foundation CAREER Award. She has been an Associate Editor for the following IEEE publications: Transactions on Signal Processing (2012—2015), Transactions on Information Theory (2007-2011), Journal of Oceanic Engineering (2006-2011), and Transactions on Communications (1996-2001). She has co-chaired: (technical program) 2014 IEEE International Symposium on Information Theory in Honolulu, HI, 2014 IEEE Information Theory Workshop in Hobart, Tasmania, IEEE 2012 International Conference on Signal Processing and Communications, Bangalore India, and the IEEE Communication Theory Symposium at ICC 2003 in Anchorage, AK; and was the general co-chair for the first ACM Workshop on Underwater Networks at Mobicom 2006, Los Angeles, CA. She served as co-Director of the Communication Sciences Institute at the University of Southern California from 2004-2007. Her research interests are in: wireless communications, communication and sensor networks, biological communication systems, detection and estimation and the interface of communication, sensing and control.

This talk is part of the Signal Processing and Communications Lab Seminars series.

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