Critical phenomena and challenges emerging from dormancy

Interdisciplinary Workshop

Interdisciplinary Workshop on: Critical phenomena and challenges emerging from dormancy

Supported by

  • Fachgebiet Stochastik, Institut für Mathematik, FB 12, Goethe-University Frankfurt
  • C3S Center for Critical Computational Studies, Goethe-University Frankfurt


  • Jochen Blath (Goethe-Universität Frankfurt),

  • Frank den Hollander (Universiteit Leiden),

  • Noemi Kurt (Goethe-Universität Frankfurt),

  • Jay T Lennon (Indiana University Bloomington),

  • Ulrich Meyer (Goethe-Universität Frankfurt Frankfurt)


Date: 18th and 19th of December 2023

Location: Goethe-University Frankfurt, Casino building on Westend Campus, Renate-von-Metzler-Saal (upper floor)

Registration: please contact Ms. Suckfüll at


Topic description:

Across the tree of life, species have evolved the capacity to contend with sub-optimal conditions by engaging in dormancy, whereby individuals enter a reversible state of reduced or vanishing metabolic activity, temporarily disconnecting themselves from their "environment". Dormancy traits have independently evolved numerous times and come in many different forms. The strategy is employed by microorganisms, plants, and animals, but for example also human cancer cells, and of course plant seeds (who often delay germination despite optimal conditions as part of a "bet-hedging strategy").

On the population level, dormancy leads to pools of inactive individuals ("seed banks") with a profound impact on the dynamics of affected systems (typically introducing memory, resilience and diversity). In population genetics, for example, dormancy is a major driver behind the preservation of genetic diversity. In cancer biology, dormancy plays a key role in therapy resistance, where cancer cells switch into dormancy in response to chemo- or immunotherapy. In ecology, dormancy lies at the heart of long-term resilience of ecosystems, with potential implications in the face of climate change. In statistical physics, type switching mechanism can lead to uphill diffusion and the failure of classical transport laws.

The abstract classification and identification of the critical features related to dormancy is crucial for a conceptual understanding of the ways in which seed banks store information and impart memory that gives rise and affects to multi-scale structures in space and time, mediated by complex networks of interactions. Mathematically, only the first initial steps have been taken in modeling this complexity and in understanding the emerging structures. It will require a combined and sustained effort of life scientists, mathematicians, computer scientists, physicists etc. to tackle the critical problems that lie ahead.

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