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Mathematical and Statistical Models for Genetic Coding

September 26th to 28th 2013, Mannheim, Germany

Scope of the conference

The conference focuses on the theoretical understanding of all the topics related to the coding and decoding of genetic information.

The discovery of the double helix of DNA determined a clear link between genetics and coding theory. The biochemical puzzle of the genetic code was reduced to an abstract problem of symbol manipulation. However, after the discovery of the standard genetic code attention gradually turned to the experimental aspects related to the sequencing of genomes of different organisms. These efforts led to the sequencing of the whole human genome; the Human Genome Project triggered a strong hope, inter alia, on the possibility of diagnosing and treating many serious diseases. However, after more than 10 years since its start, it looks like these expectations have not been met. A recent article by S.S. Hall that appeared in Scientific American: "Revolution Postponed: Why the Human Genome Project Has Been Disappointing" is illustrative. What are the possible causes of such a disappointment? On the one hand, many scientists think that we do not have enough available information so that more data are required. This line of thought has led to the 1000 Genome Project. On the other hand, some researchers, including ourselves, think that we need a shift to a new paradigm grounded on first principles from chemistry, physics, and mathematics. This conference is devoted to explore this latter line of thought and it is predicated on the belief that strong interdisciplinary efforts are needed in order to achieve significant advances in this field.

On the one hand, biology, chemistry and also physics tell us how the process of translating the genetic information into life could possibly work, but we are still very far from a complete understanding of this process. On the other hand, mathematics and statistics give us methods to describe such natural processes (or parts of them) within a theoretical framework. Also, they provide us with hints and predictions that can be tested at the experimental level. Furthermore, there are peculiar aspects of the management of genetic information that are closely related to information theory and communications theory. Last but not least computer science provides the technical tools to make most of the analyses possible.

Moreover, the fundamental question of why the genetic code is as it is and how it could have originated and evolved is one of the most exciting and difficult questions in molecular evolution and the origin of life. A better understanding of such matters has also an enormous potential of applications in areas like medicine when it comes to the treatment of diseases, biotechnologies, and molecular biology. The conference will have a strong interdisciplinary character bringing together scientists from different fields such as biology, mathematics, statistics, physics, and engineering. In particular, the subject is very attractive for young scientists at a doctoral or post-doctoral level. We will provide the ideal environment for a fruitful intergenerational communication between scientists from different disciplines.

The hope of the organizers is that the conference will stimulate discussions and scientific exchange between the participants that will then lead to collaborations and joint research regarding the fascinating question of why and how life can exist from the point of view of coding and decoding of genetic information.