Imperial College London


Faculty of Natural SciencesDepartment of Mathematics




iain.johnston Website




548Huxley BuildingSouth Kensington Campus





The biological cell is a tumultuous environment, in which proteins and organelles are constantly constructed, destroyed and buffeted. The processes that are responsible for life take place in this unpredictable setting, and require energy, which is produced (in eukaryotes -- the group which includes animals, plants and fungi) by organelles called mitochondria. My current research focusses on how random influences affect these vital cellular processes and how mitochondria behave and adapt to meet the cell's energy requirements, with a particular emphasis on how random variability in mitochondrial genetics and biophysics may lead to diseases and pathologies.

I'm also very interested in biological evolution and how maths can be used to model, and even predict, its outcomes. This topic is naturally braided with the study of mitochondria, which have a fascinating evolutionary history and are still constantly evolving in our cells. We've found several ways in which we can "learn from evolution" in diverse fields from mitochondrial medicine to crop engineering.

Many of my recent projects are described in less technical detail on our research blog and in articles like this (Nature's coverage of our "probability calculator"); this (the evolution of photosynthesis); and this (an mtDNA study suggesting a way of improving gene therapies). Some of my publications are presented below.

Scientific Publications

The numbered links below point to articles on the websites of scientific journals, which are peer-reviewed, but some of which require costly subscriptions. [OA] denotes articles which are free to access from the journal website. If available, the arxiv links point to a free source of article preprints which are not peer-reviewed but are very similar to the final manuscripts.

21. A novel quantitative assay of mitophagy: Combining high content fluorescence microscopy and mitochondrial DNA load to quantify mitophagy and identify novel pharmacological tools against pathogenic heteroplasmic mtDNA
Pharmacol. Res. (accepted 2015)
A. Diot, ..., I. G. Johnston et al.

20. Stochastic modelling, Bayesian inference, and new in vivo measurements elucidate the debated mtDNA bottleneck mechanism
eLife 4 e07464 [OA]
I. G. Johnston, J. P. Burgstaller, V. Havlicek, T. Kolbe, T. Rülicke, G. Brem, J. Poulton, N. S. Jones

19. Closed-form stochastic solutions for non-equilibrium dynamics and inheritance of cellular components over many cell divisions
Proc. Roy. Soc. A 471: 20150050 [OA] ; arxiv 1501.06149
I. G. Johnston, N. S. Jones

18. What is the function of mitochondrial networks? A theoretical assessment of hypotheses and proposal for future research
BioEssays 37 687 [OA] (2015)
H. Hoitzing, I. G. Johnston, N. S. Jones

17. Multiple hypothesis correction is vital and undermines reported mtDNA links to diseases including AIDS, cancer, and Huntingdon's
Mitochondr. DNA (online before print 2015) ; biorxiv doi 10.1101/015602
I. G. Johnston

16. Mitochondrial DNA disease and developmental implications for reproductive strategies
Mol. Hum. Reprod. 21 11 [OA] (2015)
[joint authors I. G. Johnston & J. P. Burgstaller], J. Poulton

15. Explicit Tracking of Uncertainty Increases the Power of Quantitative Rule-of-Thumb Reasoning in Cell Biology
Biophys. J. 107 2612 (2014) [OA] ; arxiv 1412.1597
I. G. Johnston, B. C. Rickett, N. S. Jones

14. The ‘mitoflash’ probe cpYFP does not respond to superoxide
Nature 514 E112 (2014)
M. Schwarzlander, ..., I. G. Johnston et al.

13. FRIENDLY regulates mitochondrial distribution, fusion, and quality control in Arabidopsis
Plant Physiol. 166 808 (2014) [OA]
A. M. El Zawily, M. Schwarzlander, I. Finkemeier, I. G. Johnston et al.

12. mtDNA Segregation in Heteroplasmic Tissues Is Common In Vivo and Modulated by Haplotype Differences and Developmental Stage
Cell Reports 7 2031 (2014) [OA]
J. P. Burgstaller, I. G. Johnston et al.

11. A tractable genotype–phenotype map modelling the self-assembly of protein quaternary structure
J. Roy. Soc. Interface 11 20140249 (2014) [OA] ; arxiv 1311.0399
S. F. Greenbury, I. G. Johnston, A. A. Louis, S. E. Ahnert

10. Efficient parametric inference for stochastic biological systems with measured variability
Stat. Appl. Genet. Mol. Biol. 13 379 (2014) ; arxiv 1403.8057
I. G. Johnston

9. Phenotypic landscape inference reveals multiple evolutionary paths to C4 photosynthesis
eLife 2 e00961 (2013) [Editor's choice] [OA] ; arxiv 1409.4978
[joint authors I. G. Johnston & B. P. Williams], S. Covshoff, J. M. Hibberd

8. Pulsing of Membrane Potential in Individual Mitochondria: A Stress-Induced Mechanism to Regulate Respiratory Bioenergetics in Arabidopsis
The Plant Cell 24 1188 (2012) [recommended by F1000] ; free link here
M. Schwarzländer, D. C. Logan, I. G. Johnston, N. S. Jones, M. D. Fricker and L. J. Sweetlove

7. Mitochondrial Variability as a Source of Extrinsic Cellular Noise 
PLoS Comput. Biol. 8 e1002416 (2012) [OA] ; arxiv 1107.4499
I. G. Johnston, B. Gaal, R. P. das Neves, T. Enver, F. J. Iborra, N. S. Jones

6. Epistasis can lead to fragmented neutral spaces and contingency in evolution
Proc. R. Soc. B 279 1777 (2012) ; arxiv 1108.1150
S. Schaper, I. G. Johnston, A. A. Louis

5. Evolutionary Dynamics in a Simple Model of Self-Assembly
Phys. Rev. E 83 066105 (2011) ; arxiv 1102.5694
I. G. Johnston, S. E. Ahnert, J. P. K. Doye, A. A. Louis

4. Self-assembly, modularity, and physical complexity
Phys. Rev. E 82 026117 (2010) ; arxiv 0912.3464
S. E. Ahnert, I. G. Johnston, T. M. A. Fink, J. P. K. Doye, A. A. Louis

3. The effect of scale-free topology on the robustness and evolvability of genetic regulatory networks
J. Theor. Biol. 267 48 (2010) ; arxiv 1005.4342
S. F. Greenbury, I. G. Johnston, M. A. Smith, J. P. K. Doye, A. A. Louis

2. Modelling the Self-Assembly of Virus Capsids
J. Phys.: Condens. Matter 22 104101 (2010) [front cover, 2010 Highlight] ; arxiv 0910.1916
I. G. Johnston, A. A. Louis, J. P. K. Doye

1. The Self-Assembly of DNA Holliday Junctions Studied with a Minimal Model
J. Chem. Phys. 130 065101 (2009) ; arxiv 0807.3280
T. E. Ouldridge, I. G. Johnston, A. A. Louis, J. P. K. Doye

OTHER Publications

Including non-technical contributions, publications not subject to peer-review, and miscellany.

2. Changing socioeconomic determinants of childhood vaccines: a global analysis over three decades
Lancet Global Health 3 S20 (2015) [abstract from conference proceedings]
A. de Figueiredo, I. G. Johnston, D. M. D. Smith, H. J. Larson, N. S. Jones

1. The chaos within: exploring noise in cellular biology
Significance 9 17 (2012) ; arxiv 1208.2250
I. G. Johnston



Johnston IG, 2022, Optimal strategies in the fighting fantasy gaming system: Influencing stochastic dynamics by gambling with limited resource, European Journal of Operational Research, Vol:302, ISSN:0377-2217, Pages:1272-1281

Johnston IG, Dingle K, Greenbury SF, et al., 2022, Reply to Ocklenburg and Mundorf: The interplay of developmental bias and natural selection., Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, Vol:119

Chustecki JM, Etherington RD, Gibbs DJ, et al., 2022, Altered collective mitochondrial dynamics in the Arabidopsis msh1 mutant compromising organelle DNA maintenance., J Exp Bot

Johnston IG, Dingle K, Greenbury SF, et al., 2022, Symmetry and simplicity spontaneously emerge from the algorithmic nature of evolution, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Vol:119, ISSN:0027-8424

Kerr R, Jabbari S, Blair JMA, et al., 2022, Dynamic Boolean modelling reveals the influence of energy supply on bacterial efflux pump expression, Journal of the Royal Society Interface, Vol:19, ISSN:1742-5689

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