Professor Rebecca Hoyle is an interdisciplinary mathematician applying mathematical modelling in the life and social sciences. She is currently researching the lifecourse determinants of early-onset multimorbidity, and the dynamics of collaborative innovation. She is curious about what makes researchers creative and why, and how collaboration and interdisciplinarity lead to new ideas. She has performed stand-up comedy inspired by her research.
Rebecca is Associate Vice-President (Interdisciplinary Research), a role she shares with Prof John Holloway.
- Multimorbidity across the lifecourse
- Cooperation in social networks and evolution of cooperation
- Quantitative genetics of transgenerational effects
- Evolution of within-generation and transgenerational phenotypic plasticity
- Molecular motor dynamics
Prof Rebecca Hoyle works on dynamical processes in biology and social sciences. Her recent work focuses on the evolution of within- and transgenerational plasticity in response to environmental conditions, the effect of empathy and emotion in strategy decisions, the mechanism of DNA unwinding, and cooperation in social networks. She has worked with collaborators in psychology, evolutionary biology and biophysics.
Prof Hoyle is co-investigator on the MELD-B project that is exploring the lifecourse determinants of early-onset burdensome multimorbidity using artificial intelligence. The team is studying the timing and sequence of acquisition of conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, asthma, depression and anxiety across the lifecourse in order to understand in greater detail how people develop complex and burdensome combinations of conditions and identify opportunities for effective intervention.
She is also continuing her quantitative genetics work modelling trait evolution in response to environmental change in time and space.
Nationally she is involved in supporting and facilitating interdisciplinary research and knowledge exchange in mathematical sciences. She is on the steering committee of the Physics of Life network (https://www.physicsoflife.org.uk), and works with the Virtual Forum for Knowledge Exchange in the Mathematical Sciences (https://www.vkemsuk.org) to provide access to modelling expertise in a virtual format.
Prof Hoyle has taught on a number of different modules, including MATH3052 Mathematical Biology.
PhD projects in any of Prof Hoyle's research areas may be available through co-development of projects with applicants:
Phenotypic plasticity and maternal effects in spatially varying environments
Phenotypic plasticity is the ability of an organism to adapt its phenotype - its observable characteristics, such as body size or growth rate - to its environment during its lifetime. Maternal effects can be described as the effects of a mother's phenotype on her offspring's phenotype through pathways other than direct genetic transmission, for example through epigenetic changes in the DNA, resource transmission in the womb, or behavioural responses to offspring behaviour. The aim of this project is to explore the effect of variable habitat quality on the evolution of phenotypic plasticity and maternal effects so as to understand better how populations adapt to spatially varying environments.
External roles and responsibilities
Prof Hoyle’s research has evolved from a background in nonlinear dynamics and pattern formation to a now strongly interdisciplinary focus applying mathematics and modelling to issues in the life and social sciences.
In collaboration with Dr Tom Ezard, Dr Roshan Prizak and Dr Bram Kuijper she has written a series of papers on the evolution of transgenerational effects, a form of non-genetic inheritance. They used a quantitative genetics approach that blends statistics and dynamical systems to understand the evolution of maternal effects – namely the effect of a mother’s phenotype on the phenotype of her offspring independent of the inherited genes – looking at the interplay of environmental change, phenotypic plasticity, genetic assimilation and maternal inheritance. They discovered that a negative maternal effect – the tendency of offspring to be phenotypically ‘opposite’ to their mother, once genes have been taken into account – leads to greater population mean fitness in stable environments by reducing trait variance across the population. This may go some way to explaining why measurements of maternal effects are often found to be negative, despite the potential of positive maternal effects – being like mum – to promote more rapid adaptation to environmental change, which their modelling also confirmed.
Prof Hoyle and collaborators Dr Martina Testori and Prof Hedwig Eisenbarth have used statistical analysis of data from experimental strategy games to study the effect of personality and emotion in decision-making. They deduced the range of strategies in play and the impact of personality on cooperation when participants receive facial feedback on the emotional impact of their actions. They went on to show that the distribution of individual personality traits within a group can affect group cooperation dynamics on a static network: specifically groups with higher densities of players scoring higher for psychopathic traits such as fearless dominance and self-centred impulsivity cooperate less than groups composed of players who are all low-scoring for these traits, even taking into account the direct effect of the individual personality traits on cooperation. They also ran evolutionary individual-based simulations to understand how environmental conditions might influence the evolution of propensities to risk-taking and selfishness, finding that selfish risk-seeking can be evolutionarily advantageous in situations where an individual’s survival is moderately challenged.
With collaborators Dr Jim Allen and Prof Anne Skeldon she has considered economic and social influences on the evolution of cooperative behaviour using a modified public goods game on a multiplex network, finding that social influence leads to the persistence of initial cooperation strategies and so can promote the survival of highly cooperative strategies even when the economic reward for cooperation is relatively modest.
She collaborated with Dr Dan Burnham, Dr Hazal Kose and Dr Hasan Yardimci on unravelling the mechanism of DNA unwinding by the eukaryotic replicative helicase; the team combined experimental and modelling work to deduce that the helicase acts as a lazy Brownian ratchet that may enter up to three pause states during the unwinding process.
Prof Hoyle wrote a graduate textbook Pattern Formation: An Introduction to Methods (Cambridge University Press; 2006) and maintains a list of typos and errata for it here.
- IMA Hedy Lamarr prize (2021)
- IOP 2020 Rosalind Franklin Medal and Prize (2020)
- PraxisAuril KE Prize for KE Team of the Year (2021)