The mathematics of robustness in molecular communication networks

Study level


Master of Philosophy


Topic status

We're looking for students to study this topic.


Dr Robyn Araujo
Senior Lecturer
Division / Faculty
Science and Engineering Faculty


Robustness, and the ability to function and thrive amid changing and unfavourable environments, is a fundamental requirement for living systems. In the past, it has been a mystery how large and complex biological networks can exhibit robust performance since complexity is generally associated with fragility.

Exciting recent research here at QUT has suggested a resolution to this paradox through the discovery that robust adaptive signalling networks must be constructed from a small number of well-defined universal modules ("motifs"). The existence of these newly-discovered modules has important implications for evolutionary biology, embryology and development, cancer research, and drug development.

Research activities

In this project, the student will explore the applications of this new theory to an important problem in embryology. In particular, the student will construct and study simple mathematical models of special interacting molecules called "morphogens". Morphogens are chemicals that form specific spatial patterns in tissues, thereby regulating the process of cellular specialisation within the early development of an embryo.

The project will aim to identify a class of simple network configurations that enable a particular morphogen pattern to be generated robustly - that is, independently of the "gene dosage" of the morphogen in question - and relate these findings to established theory on robust adaptive signalling networks.


This project is expected to make important contributions to the field of biocomplexity, through the identification of as-yet unknown special structures in the chemical reaction networks underlying body-patterning and segmentation in embryology.

Skills and experience

The project details could be adapted to a student's mathematical interests. The project is likely to require solving differential equations (ordinary and partial), analytically and/or numerically (in Matlab, for example). A sound grasp of linear algebra will be very important. Optionally, students could also approach the problem via a stochastic framework, if this suits the student's particular interests.


You may be able to apply for a research scholarship in our annual scholarship round.

Annual scholarship round



Contact the supervisor for more information.