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Ideas Challenge Winners



Congratulations to our Ideas Challenge winners in the Development track! These applicants explore theoretical tools or empirical data that may result in deeper insights into the biological determinants of goal-directed outcomes in embryonic development. Learn more about them and their projects below.

Mercedes Burns
University of Maryland, Baltimore County
How does the process of oogenesis change when females are capable of both sexual andasexual reproduction? This project will compare ovarian transcriptomes of a facultativelyasexual arachnid with and without access to reproductive opportunities. ​Results from theproposed work will allow us to identify whether oogenesis in facultative asexuals is directedtowards reproductive mode, and to what degree environmental feedback guides this direction.
Michael Levin
Tufts University
One clear example of purpose in biology is the ability of cells to re-build the same anatomical structure (during regulative embryogenesis or regeneration), despite various perturbations. We use planarian flatworms to investigate how the specific pattern to be restored is remembered by tissues before and after injury. Using a combination of biophysics, cell biology, and computational modeling, we will develop a quantitative theory of purpose implemented as specific bodyplan patterns encoded in bioelectric properties of tissues. We will also determine how active purpose can be changed by re-writing the target morphology in the living worm, causing the cells to build anatomical bodies different from their genomic defaults.
Armin Moczek
Indiana University
Anthropogenic changes to life on Earth force an unprecedented number of species to confront novel conditions never encountered before in their evolutionary history. This creates a unique opportunity to investigate how the development of diverse organisms responds to novel conditions, and the biases these interactions produce in the genesis of phenotypic variation. I will investigate which types of organisms and scientific approaches are most informative to unearth when (in development), where (in the phenotype) and under what ecological circumstances environment-responsive development contributes to innovation and diversification in evolution.
Jeremy Skrzypek
University of Mary
For this project, I will be exploring a hybrid theory of material objects known as “hyloenergeism”, which draws from both classical Aristotelian hylomorphism and recent process biology. According to hyloenergeism, the form of an object is best understood as a certain kind of activity or process in which its matter is engaged, and the object itself is best understood as a hylomorphic composite, composed of both matter and form, which exists as long as that activity or process is continuously realized in some suitable matter. As a version of hylomorphism, hyloenergeism better captures the inherent dynamism of living organisms, it provides a helpful framework for modeling interaction between levels of reality, and it better explains how material objects might be understood as directed to particular ends by virtue of possessing certain kinds of forms.