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Organized by the University of Chicago’s Eric and Wendy Schmidt AI in Science Postdoctoral Fellowship Program.

Meeting location
William Eckhardt Research Center. Room 401
5640 S Ellis Avenue, Chicago, IL 60637
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4:30pm – 5:15pm: Presentation
5:15pm – 5:30pm: Q&A
5:30pm – 6:00pm: Reception

Abstract: Communities of microbes, comprising hundreds or thousands of taxa, reside in nearly every niche on Earth – from soils to the oceans and human guts. The diversity present in these communities drives complex abundance dynamics, mediated by a dizzying array of interactions between components of the system. Furthermore, these interactions vary in time and space due to processes from evolution to environmental fluctuations. Despite this apparent complexity, microbial communities reliably perform critical functions across the biosphere, including protecting hosts from pathogens and driving global biogeochemical cycles. How does the structure of a collective – the genotypes present, their phenotypes, and interactions – determine emergent community function? In this talk, I will present our recent work interrogating this ‘structure-function problem’ in microbial communities. A central aspect of our approach to this problem is the application of machine learning (ML) methods to learn the principles of mapping structure to function. I will present some lessons we’ve learned: (1) less is more — simple models are sometimes unexpectedly better. (2) Prediction is not understanding – statistical models can often make successful predictions without revealing underlying mechanisms. (3) Computational learning can provide inspiration for the interrogation of eco-evolutionary processes.

Seppe Kuehn, Assistant Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolution and the College. Microbial communities inhabit every niche on earth, from oceans and soils to the human body. In these diverse contexts, complex communities of microbes perform metabolic processes upon which all life depends—from driving global nutrient cycles to impacting human health. Seppe Kuehn is working to uncover the ecological and evolutionary principles that have allowed these complex microbial communities to assemble, function, and persist. To solve this problem he combines insights from microbial ecology with conceptual, mathematical, and experimental approaches from physics. His research has been published in Cell Systems, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, The ISME Journal, Physical Review Letters, and eLife. Kuehn, who is also a core member of the University’s Center for the Physics of Evolving Systems, holds a BS magna cum laude in physics from Beloit College and a PhD in chemical physics from Cornell University. While at Cornell, he was honored with the Howard Neal Wachter Memorial Prize for excellence in physical chemistry and the Tunis Wentink Prize for outstanding PhD thesis. Most recently, he was an assistant professor in physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Campus North Parking
5505 S Ellis Ave
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