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The NSF-Simons Center for Multiscale Cell Fate Research (CMCF) is connecting scientists across mathematical, physical, and biological sciences to usher in a new era of biology. CMCF is one of four NSF-Simons Research Centers for Mathematics of Complex Biological Systems situated across the country, jointly funded by the National Science Foundation and the Simons Foundation.

Cells, the building blocks of life, are complex machines constructed from genetic blueprints that are strongly influenced by their in vivo environment. Recent advances in single cell measurement indicate that cells are more heterogeneous, with vastly more unknown types, than previously recognized, and that cell fate decisions are stochastic, dynamic, and complex. Massive genomic data at the single-cell scale are beginning to reveal new complex genotypes, while live imaging of cells in space shows novel phenotypes and unresolved functions in dynamic environments.

These newly-observed heterogeneities and the associated stochastic transitions are challenging how we define cell fate. Measurements of noise and epigenetic regulation suggest the importance of other previously unexplored layers of complexity driving cell fate decisions. It is increasingly clear that experimental tools alone are insufficient to dissect cell fate, and mathematical, statistical, and computational approaches are becoming indispensable to revealing cell fate: an emergent property arising from complex interactions among biochemical and physical events across temporal and spatial scales within and outside cells.

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