From molecules and genes to large neural networks

The Netherlands eScience Center is partnering up with 5 universities and 5 partner organizations to understand network computations in the project SmartNets. In this Marie Skłodowska Curie Innovative Training Network, Fleur Zeldenrust from the Donders Institute is leading the project. The goal is to investigate how the highly advanced networks in biological systems are built and how information is transferred through them.

Think of the the murmuration of starlings, the schooling of fish, or even hypes on social media or the spreading of powerouts: the behaviour of a network is critically determined by its structure. This structure induces collective emergent behavior that can only be understood by analysing the whole network in relation to its constituent parts. Particularly in the brain, the architecture of the network is essential for its functioning: information transfer and processing within and between networks.

Networks re-organise themselves. Because of the underlying network changes are not known, it remains unclear whether these changes improve the information processing: are the representations of the sensory stimuli in the new situation more accurate and/or more efficient?

In this project a biophysical model of barrel cortex will be used to investigate networks between controlled and deprived conditions. Dr. Rena Bakhshi, eScience Research Engineer at Netherlands eScience Center, and her team (Dafne van Kuppevelt, MSc and Dr. Sonja Georgievska) will work towards validation of the developed network analysis and modelling tools investigating connectivity changes.

Thereby, Bakhshi and her team hope to contribute to a method to model different connectivity patterns, which can increase information capabilities of networks.

Sharing knowledge

The novelty of the contributions of the project will lie in the combination of existing and new techniques, from different research domains, and across the three analysis dimensions. By transcending specific data sets or domains, the team expects to open up new insights into the properties, behaviour and dynamic evolution of biological networks.

The project values to train data scientists of the future, that will be able to analyse biological networks across levels, domains and types. The eScience Center will play a crucial role by taking on a PhD student who will work closely with the eScience Center benefiting from expertise obtained within other network projects.

‘The eScience Center is all about exchanging knowledge, therefore we are eager to share our expertise. We will offer our partners training in the form of workshops on good practices in research software. We also plan to give more focused workshops on the model validation techniques’, says Bakhshi.

Come and join this exciting network.

The PhD student will use simulation experiments to investigate synaptic plasticity in the mouse somatosensory cortex upon sensory deprivation. The student will also look whether the changes in the underlying network affect the accuracy and efficiency of information processing.

For more information and application:

Plasticity of network conductivity in somatosensory processing

SmartNets homepage

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