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Department of Mathematical Sciences

Pascal Lecture 2013

Professor Antti Niemi (Uppsala and Tours)

"Strings, Integrable Models and Biology - A New Frontier?"

5 June 2013, 1:00pm, CM221

Abstract: The biological function of a protein depends critically on its three dimensional geometry. But at the moment we do not know how the shape of a protein could be deduced from the DNA sequence alone. As a consequence the protein folding problem endures as one of the most important unresolved problems in science, it addresses the origin of life itself. In this talk we shall argue, that the shape of a protein can actually be determined from very general principles, that are also utilized in the context of string theory and integrable models. We shall argue, that there is a universal energy function which relates to the discrete nonlinear Schrodinger equation, the paradigm integrable lattice model, that describes all known folded protein structures. We show how to derive this energy function from fundamental geometrical concepts. We show that it supports soliton solutions, that describe folded proteins with a precision where the root-mean-square distance between an experimental crystallographic structure in Protein Data Bank and its theoretical description is less than the radius of a carbon atom. We present a number of examples of numerical simulations that show how a protein folds. The simulations are performed with laptop computer, and the simulation proceeds practically as fast as the folding does in vivo.


The Pascal Fellow 2013 is Antti Niemi, CNRS Professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Tours in France and also at Uppsala University in Sweden. He has worked on a variety of areas in theoretical physics from quantum field theory to classical solitons, and his current research interests involve various aspects of biophysics and mathematical biology. Professor Niemi is a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. In 1994, he was awarded the Goran Gustafsson Prize by the Royal Society of Sciences of Sweden.