How can mathematicians help to solve questions about biology? By using mathematical methods to tackle highly complex problems such as stopping a disease outbreak, or predicting the effects of global climate change, or reducing the risk that insects will become resistant to GMO crops, says a visionary UC Davis scientist.
Writing in the March 28 issue of the journal Science, UC Davis professor of environmental science and policy Alan Hastings described the new links being forged between mathematicians and biologists. His co-author was aquatic ecologist Margaret Palmer, in the Department of Entomology at the University of Maryland.
Hastings himself is an authority on the modeling of spatially distributed populations. With UC Davis colleagues in the Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology, he has developed the theory for the design of marine reserves that could preserve fish biodiversity and yet yield the same fishing harvest as current fishing-control methods.
In their Science paper, Hastings and Palmer pointed to the dramatic success of an early math-biology collaboration: the 2001 foot-and-mouth epidemic in the United Kingdom. "[The mathematical] analyses enabled the design of a control strategy based on local culling of infected and exposed animals that resulted in halting of the epidemic," they wrote.
The next step, the authors say, is to promote the training of a new generation of scientists with expertise in both fields.