Jie Deng is a PhD candidate in systems ecology whose interdisciplinary research is focused on the emerging area of theoretical community ecology. Specifically, Jie is developing a series of potentially groundbreaking hypotheses about how living systems form and develop. Her central proposal—that living systems assemble in ways that maximize the probability of persistence—could be used to forecast and engineer these systems. She is developing a probabilistic theoretical framework, built in MATLAB, to model and predict the assembly and disassembly processes governing ecological communities and verified that framework using experimental data on fruit fly gut microbiota. A MathWorks Fellowship will help her extend these frameworks to invasion processes (e.g., E. Coli), and test those theories with data from human gut microbiota. Jie’s innovative research is offering valuable insights into the functioning of ecological communities under varying environmental conditions and considers many species. This work has the potential to enhance our understanding of ecological services and functions, from the human immune system to soil formation.