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Roberto Serra (May 2018 - Jun 2018, Apr-May 2022)

Full professor of complex systems at the Department of Physics, Informatics and Mathematics of the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia. Formerly, president of AI*IA (the Italian Association for Artificial Intelligence) and chairman of the Science Board of the European Centre for Living Technology


My research

I develop theoretical models of complex dynamical systems (including genetic regulatory networks, cell differentiation, growing and dividing protocells) looking for generic properties rather than focusing on specific cases, with emphasis on the possible role of dynamical criticality. I am also developing information-theoretical methods to identify relevant subsets of variables in dynamical systems.

IAS fellowship

Does the emergence of lifelike properties heavily depend on the existence of some very specific chemical species and reactions, or it is almost unavoidable in a complex enough chemical reaction system?

I wish to understand whether it is possible to develop abstract-level models of protocells, that combine both generic and specific features, thus providing indications for experimental research.

There are already existing dynamical models of random molecular systems, which make use of deterministic or stochastic differential equations. My group and I are actively exploring the behaviour of these models in protocells, under different hypotheses and in different types of natural or laboratory settings. During my IAS fellowship, I will try to insert in their framework some specific features of the known reactions of core metabolism, or some constraints based on the physical properties of the chemical species that are supposed to be involved. This is expected to lead to new insights in the possibility to combine in a nontrivial way generic and more specific approaches to model protocells and the origin of life.