Prof. Dr. Benjamin Towbin

Organismal Systems Biology Lab

Animals consist of thousands of different types of molecules. To comprehend this immense complexity, we search for fundamental design principles of molecular circuits at a multi-celluar scale. To this end, we combine theory and quantitative experiments using the nematode C. elegans.

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We currently focus on the nutritional control of growth and aging, and on body size homeostasis.

Do animals find an optimal balance between growth and aging?

Environmental conditions affect the rates of growth and aging. Most famously, animals delay aging when environmental nutrients are scarce, and grow more slowly. We want to understand if this control of growth and aging increases the long term evolutionary success of a genotype, or is merely a passive consequence of a slow metabolism.

Our research builds on mathematical models of life history theory stating that animals face tradeoffs between growth and aging and need to balance their investment between these two tasks. Specifically, theory predicts that a different compromise between growth and aging is optimal in different nutritional conditions.

Using genetics, we experimentally modulate the rates of growth and aging of C. elegans to test these theoretical predictions. We ask which balance between growth and aging presents the best compromise and study the molecular mechanisms by which animals compute optimal tradeoffs in different environments.

We believe that this research will unravel functions of metabolic signaling networks that are only apparent when studied at the scale of an entire animal or even population. 


How do animals reach the right size?

Genetically identical individuals never look completely the same due to the stochasticity of biological processes.  We want to understand how animals prevent that small differences among individuals at birth amplify to much larger differences during the development of an animal. Specifically, we focus on the relation between heterogeneity in growth and body size of C. elegans.

In principle, two individuals that differ even only slightly in their growth rate are expected to differ increasingly in their body size during development due to the exponential nature of growth. This effect is comparable to small differences in the interest rate on a bank account that over the years amplify to large differences in savings due to the benefit of compound interest.

We study if and how animals maintain a constant body size despite heterogeneity in their growth rate. To address this question, we use micro chambers to grow hundreds of individuals of C. elegans in parallel (see movie here) and track each individual's rates of growth, development and size.

Gruppe Towbin

Post Docs




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Stojanovski, Klement; Großhans, Helge; Towbin, Benjamin D (2022). Coupling of growth rate and developmental tempo reduces body size heterogeneity in C. elegans. Nature Communications, 13(1), p. 3132. Springer Nature 10.1038/s41467-022-29720-8


Padeken, Jan; Zeller, Peter; Towbin, Benjamin; Katic, Iskra; Kalck, Veronique; Methot, Stephen P; Gasser, Susan M (2019). Synergistic lethality between BRCA1 and H3K9me2 loss reflects satellite derepression. Genes & development, 33(7-8), pp. 436-451. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press 10.1101/gad.322495.118


Korem Kohanim, Yael; Levi, Dikla; Jona, Ghil; Towbin, Benjamin D.; Bren, Anat; Alon, Uri (2018). A Bacterial Growth Law out of Steady State. Cell reports, 23(10), pp. 2891-2900. Cell Press 10.1016/j.celrep.2018.05.007


Towbin, Benjamin D.; Korem, Yael; Bren, Anat; Doron, Shany; Sorek, Rotem; Alon, Uri (2017). Optimality and sub-optimality in a bacterial growth law. Nature Communications, 8(14123), p. 14123. Springer Nature 10.1038/ncomms14123

Hastings, Janna; Mains, Abraham; Artal-Sanz, Marta; Bergmann, Sven; Braeckman, Bart P.; Bundy, Jake; Cabreiro, Filipe; Dobson, Paul; Ebert, Paul; Hattwell, Jake; Hefzi, Hooman; Houtkooper, Riekelt H.; Jelier, Rob; Joshi, Chintan; Kothamachu, Varun B.; Lewis, Nathan; Lourenço, Artur Bastos; Nie, Yu; Norvaisas, Povilas; Pearce, Juliette; ... (2017). WormJam: A consensus C. elegans Metabolic Reconstruction and Metabolomics Community and Workshop Series. Worm, 6(2), e1373939. Taylor & Francis 10.1080/21624054.2017.1373939


Bren, Anat; Park, Junyoung O; Towbin, Benjamin D.; Dekel, Erez; Rabinowitz, Joshua D; Alon, Uri (2016). Glucose becomes one of the worst carbon sources for E.coli on poor nitrogen sources due to suboptimal levels of cAMP. Scientific Reports, 6, p. 24834. Nature Publishing Group 10.1038/srep24834


Gonzalez-Sandoval, Adriana; Towbin, Benjamin D; Kalck, Veronique; Cabianca, Daphne S; Gaidatzis, Dimos; Hauer, Michael H; Geng, Liqing; Wang, Li; Yang, Teddy; Wang, Xinghao; Zhao, Kehao; Gasser, Susan M (2015). Perinuclear Anchoring of H3K9-Methylated Chromatin Stabilizes Induced Cell Fate in C. elegans Embryos. Cell reports, 163(6), pp. 1333-1347. Cell Press 10.1016/j.cell.2015.10.066


Aidelberg, Guy; Towbin, Benjamin D; Rothschild, Daphna; Dekel, Erez; Bren, Anat; Alon, Uri (2014). Hierarchy of non-glucose sugars in Escherichia coli. BMC systems biology, 8(133), p. 133. BioMed Central 10.1186/s12918-014-0133-z


Ferreira, Helder C; Towbin, Benjamin D; Jegou, Thibaud; Gasser, Susan M (2013). The shelterin protein POT-1 anchors Caenorhabditis elegans telomeres through SUN-1 at the nuclear periphery. Journal of cell biology, 203(5), pp. 727-735. Rockefeller Institute Press 10.1083/jcb.201307181

Towbin, Benjamin D; Gonzalez-Sandoval, Adriana; Gasser, Susan M (2013). Mechanisms of heterochromatin subnuclear localization. Trends in biochemical sciences, 38(7), pp. 356-363. Elsevier 10.1016/j.tibs.2013.04.004

Gonzalez-Sandoval, Adriana; Towbin, Benjamin D; Gasser, Susan M (2013). The formation and sequestration of heterochromatin during development: delivered on 7 September 2012 at the 37th FEBS Congress in Sevilla, Spain. The FEBS journal, 280(14), pp. 3212-3219. FEBS Press 10.1111/febs.12319


Dion, Vincent; Kalck, Véronique; Horigome, Chihiro; Towbin, Benjamin D; Gasser, Susan M (2012). Increased mobility of double-strand breaks requires Mec1, Rad9 and the homologous recombination machinery. Nature cell biology, 14(5), pp. 502-509. Macmillan Publisher 10.1038/ncb2465


Meister, Peter; Towbin, Benjamin D.; Pike, Brietta L; Ponti, Aaron; Gasser, Susan M (2010). The spatial dynamics of tissue-specific promoters during C. elegans development. Genes & development, 24(8), pp. 766-782. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press 10.1101/gad.559610

Towbin, B. D.; Meister, P.; Pike, B. L.; Gasser, S. M. (2010). Repetitive transgenes in C. elegans accumulate heterochromatic marks and are sequestered at the nuclear envelope in a copy-number- and lamin-dependent manner. Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology, 75, pp. 555-565. Biological Laboratory 10.1101/sqb.2010.75.041


Towbin, Benjamin D; Meister, Peter; Gasser, Susan M (2009). The nuclear envelope--a scaffold for silencing? Current opinion in genetics & development, 19(2), pp. 180-186. Elsevier 10.1016/j.gde.2009.01.006

We are always interested in motivated talent and can explore possible projects and funding opportunities, including  postdoctoral fellowships from EMBO, MSCA,  HFSP, or FEBS. Please get in touch by email providing your CV, a motivation letter, and a statement of research interests.

Undergraduates looking for training opportunities: Please get in touch by email!