Akos Dobay

Research Interests

I studied theoretical physics at the University of Lausanne where I did my Ms dissertation «On Supersymmetric Extensions of Poincaré Lie Superalgebra» with Jean-Jacques Loeffel and my PhD dissertation on «Physical and statistical properties of random knots» with Jacques Dubochet and Andrzej Stasiak. Together with Nicolas Monod, I also founded a book series, Arkhaï,  during my studies.

For students, I give a lecture series entitled Interdisciplinary Research Methods in Computational Biology (Bio 394).


  • Tobias Wechsler (Master Student 2016 – 2017)

Tobias explores the intricate dynamics of bacteria engaged in cooperative behavior in silico. This work is done together with the group of Rolf Kümmerli. For additional details on this project, please also visit his page.

Microbes share secreted beneficial metabolites (i.e. public goods) among community members. This type of cooperative behavior can be weakened by cheater microbes that do not invest in public goods production, but take advantage of them nevertheless. From an evolutionary perspective, it is puzzling to understand why cooperation can be observed nowadays even if it is not favored by natural selection.

Computer simulation
Artwork showing a computer simulation snapshot (disks of various sizes) superimposed on a fluorescence  image microscopy of  P. aeruginosa. Green are cooperator cells and purple are cheaters. Image taken by Konstanze Schiess.

It turns out that there are many loopholes in such a simplistic reasoning. Our in silico experiments, based on a custom-made simulation environment that can run on large clusters (see the article in the Scientific Computing World), show that cooperation can nicely flourish in the presence of cheaters under the right environmental conditions.

Furthermore, bacteria are able to evolve what we would qualify as policy mechanims that prevent the emergence of cheaters in the community. We are currently exploring this phenomenon.

Cloud of Mice

Understanding the evolution of cooperative behaviour is one of the greatest challenges in evolutionary biology and in social sciences. Social interactions can be found in a wide range of species from complex organisms down to single cell living individuals such as bacteria, which are organized in colonies. House mice live in a complex social environment and offer a tractable system in which one can test hypotheses regarding the evolution of cooperative behaviour. In other words, we aim at understanding how environmental and genetic factors influence social interactions and intrasexual competition using a closely monitored population of wild house mice. 

Flowchart showing the automated data transfer and the data analysis.

In this interdisciplinary project we monitor individual life histories and social behaviour of free-living wild house mice (Mus domesticus) from cradle to grave or emigration, and genetically sample all individuals. This study population is unique in that mice can emigrate and immigrate, and long distance dispersal out of the barn occurs, as marked mice have been recovered approximately 1 km away. The study population was initiated in late 2002 in a former barn (floor space ca. 70 m2), and currently comprises 250-400 individuals (seasonal differences). For a house mouse, a barn is a natural habitat, since house mice in Europe occur in anthropogenic habitats, such as grain stores and farm buildings. The mice can access all parts of the barn. They nest in 40 artificial nestboxes and are provided with straw as nesting material. The barn itself is free of predators, but not of parasites. We have observed house cats, barn owls and foxes nearby, thus mice are exposed to predators whenever they exit the barn. A unique radio-frequency identification (RFID) number is attached to each mouse. The RFID number allows tracking the residence time of each individual in the barn when they enter a nestbox. The system collects this information in a logbook stored on a computer place in the barn.


Education and Professional Positions

2015 - present Lecturer, Institute of Forensic Medicine, University of Zurich, Switzerland and 3D Center Zurich
2013 - 2017 Post-doctoral researcher, Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, University of Zurich, Switzerland (Group of Prof. Dr. Barbara König)
2012 -2013 Post-doctoral researcher, Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, University of Zurich, Switzerland (Group of Prof. Dr. Homayoun Bagheri)
2010 - 2011 Post-doctoral researcher, Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, University of Zurich, Switzerland (Group of Dr. Daniel J. Rankin)
2006 - 2009 Post-doctoral researcher, Department of Biology II, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany (Group of Prof. Dr. Heinrich Leonhardt)
2006 Max-Delbrück-Center (MDC) Fellow, Max-Delbrück-Center for Molecular Medicine, Berlin, Germany (Group of Dr. Cristina Cardoso)
2005 - 2006 SNF fellow (Advanced Researcher) with Dr. Eduardo Mendoza, Experimental Physics, Ludwig-Maximilians-University (LMU), Munich, Germany (Chair: Prof. Joachim Rädler)
2005 SNF fellow (Advanced Researcher), Arnold Sommerfeld Zentrum für theoretische Physik, Ludwig-Maximilians-University (LMU), Munich, Germany (Chair: Prof. Dr. Erwin Frey)
2002 - 2004 First assistant (Oberassistent), Laboratory of Ultrastructural Analysis (LAU), University of Lausanne, Switzerland
2004 Guest researcher at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC), USA (Inviting Professor: Prof. Dr. Yuanan Diao)
2003 Guest researcher at the University of Santa Barbara in California (UCSB), USA (Inviting Professor: Prof. Dr. Kenneth Millett)
1997 - 2003 Doctoral studies at the University of Lausanne, Laboratory of Ultrastructural Analysis (LAU), Department of Biology, Switzerland (Department head: Prof. Jacques Dubochet) PhD degree with Prof. Dr. Jacques Dubochet and Dr. Andrzej Stasiak: «Physical and Statistical Properties of Random Knots»
1992 - 1997 Academic studies at the University of Lausanne, Department of Physics, Switzerland Master in Physics with Prof. Dr. Jean-Jacques Loeffel: «On Supersymmetric Extensions of Poincaré Lie Superalgebra»