Naama Barkai is a professor in the Deparment of Molecular Genetics at the Weizmann Institute of Science. She received her PhD in Theoretical Physics in 1995 from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and pursued a postdoc at Princeton University before joining the Weizmann Institute faculty in 1999.
She was fortunate to be among the physics-trained biologists who were applying tools and concepts from the quantitative sciences to study how cellular computation systems are designed. This group was the founding core of the emergent field of systems biology. Barkai’s work contributed to two subfields of systems biology: understanding the design principles of biological circuits on a relatively small scale, and understanding principles of gene expression at the genomic level. A central contribution of Barkai’s work is the formulation and application of the robustness principle. Biological circuits, in contrast (perhaps) to man-made computation devices, work within what is inherently a highly noisy environment, as manifested in different dimensions. The robustness principle suggests that the biological circuits selected by evolution are robust; that is, they perform their function reliably in a noisy environment, showing minimal dependency on the kinetics of quantitative parameters. Over the years, Barkai has applied this principle to reveal design principles and operational mechanisms of multiple circuits that work in diverse contexts. In particular, her work has revealed mechanisms that function during multicellular development to pattern the body plan.