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Hyun Youk


  • CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholar 2018-2020
  • Molecular Architecture of Life




What determines when an organism dies and whether there are mechanisms, as yet unknown, to revive an organism after death are captivating questions that force us to examine what distinguishes the living from non-living matter.

Driven by these questions, Hyun Youk’s laboratory investigates the principles and molecular mechanisms that enable various cells to autonomously and collectively determine how they grow, live, die and revive themselves. Youk is particularly interested in molecular mechanisms inside cells and communication among cells that regulate their genes and, in turn, cause a cell to transition between life and death. For this research, his team performs experiments on naturally existing and genetically engineered bacteria, baker’s yeast, and embryonic stem cells. To help interpret their experiments and provide a framework to understand their data, the team builds mathematical models and new physics-inspired frameworks for living systems. Through an interplay between the theories and experiments, they ultimately hope to productively address a basic question: “What does it mean to be living or dead?”


  • International Union of Physics and Applied Physics (IUPAP) Young
  • Scientist Prize in Biological Physics, 2017
  • Dutch Science Organization (NWO) Vidi Award, 2016
  • European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant, 2015
  • Damon Runyon Fellowship Award, 2011
  • Finalist, American Physical Society's (APS) Best PhD Thesis in Biological Physics, 2010

Relevant Publications

  • Olimpio, E.P., Y. Dang and H. Youk. "Statistical dynamics of spatial-order formation by communicating cells." iScience (2018).
  • Doganer, B. A., L. K. Q. Yan and H. Youk. "Autocrine signaling and quorum sensing: Extreme ends of a common spectrum." Trends in Cell Biology (2016).
  • Maire, T. and H. Youk. "Molecular-level tuning of cellular autonomy controls the collective behaviors of cell populations." Cell Systems (2015).
  • Youk, H. and W. A. Lim. "Secreting and sensing the same molecule allows cells to achieve versatile social behaviors." Science (2014).
  • Youk, H. and A. van Oudenaarden. "Growth landscape formed by perception and import of glucose in yeast." Nature (2009).

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CIFAR is a registered charitable organization supported by the governments of Canada, Alberta and Quebec, as well as foundations, individuals, corporations and Canadian and international partner organizations.

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