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Traditional biological research is expected to reach certain limits due its reductionistic approach. As more details (data) about biological systems become available, a more holistic view is being promoted by many to push the boundaries of the current method and to further our understanding biological phenomena. Complete genomes, proteomes and other system-wide data are becoming available for more and more organisms at a staggering pace. An enormous challenge is to understand how different parts of biological systems interact and organize themselves to perform biological function. Increasingly, scientists argue that this century will bring about a fundamental shift in biology towards a systems-level approach to understanding living systems. The emerging new interdisciplinary field has been termed systems biology (other names denoting the same or similar concepts include integrative biology, predictive biology, theoretical biology and in-silico biology).

We consider systems biology as a crucial pillar in a range of emerging efforts collectively referred to as post-genomic biological sciences. The key aims of systems biology are:

  • To unveil the structures and properties of biological networks and systems,
  • To understand how robustness and stability is conserved in biological systems,
  • To study temporal changes under different system conditions, and, the ultimate and arguably most challenging goal,
  • To modify, design, and construct biological systems with desired properties.

Systems biology is particularly dependant on thorough in-vivo and in-vitro experiments. Data derived from such experiments is crucial for subsequent mathematical and computational modelling. Important near-future challenges in systems biology include computational models capable of meaningfully integrating two or more levels of biological organization such as gene expression, protein profiles, protein-protein interaction, gene-regulatory networks, transcriptional patterns, and biological pathways (e.g., metabolic, protein-folding, developmental, and evolutionary). Such integrative models require sophisticated abstraction and modelling mechanisms and sometimes considerable computational power. They may be re-engineered from given data and existing knowledge about the underlying biological entities. However, achieving these goals will require interdisciplinary efforts of experimentalists, theoreticians, and practitioners in fields like biology, mathematics, and computer science.

The implications of successful research in systems biology are profound. This new discipline has the potential to push the boundaries in our understanding of cell pathology and associated complex diseases. It will help to understand complex diseases at a systems level and will provide ways to generate new knowledge, which will in turn improve health services and create wealth. Systems biology is also thought to revolutionize the way we produce new drugs and treat disease.

To pursue and help shape this new emerging field, the SB(R)Net will explore and further develop systems biology as a key pillar of post-genomic science. The SB(R)Net is characterized by two important dimensions, a regional or geographical dimension, and a scientific or non-geographical dimension. Geographically, the SB(R)Net is mainly located in Northern Ireland but includes other Celtic regions such as the Republic of Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and to a lesser extent some areas in West England. This definition of geographic focus determines the context of the Network in terms of available infrastructure and resources such as industry, education, transport, and so on. We recognize that there is a particular lack of widespread pharmaceutical and biotechnological industry in the geographic region of the Network.

We believe that by exploiting the Network's interdisciplinary composition we can bring about synergetic effects and will be able to contribute significantly to the exploration, development, and definition of systems biology in the region and beyond. Within the funding period of the Network (8 November 2004 to 7 November 2007), we aim to develop the Network to a point where it is able to continue its existence by successfully bidding for R&D funding both within the Network's primary region and within Europe. At the same time the goal of the Network is to explore concrete leads within the industrial and academic biotech sector and disseminate the results arising from the Network's research efforts to academia and industry.

Created by darragh
Last modified 2005-04-26 11:57 AM

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