Most of the diseases which plague humankind today are multifactorial: they are not simply the result of one mutation in one gene, producing one rogue protein that can no longer carry out its job. Diabetes and obesity, for instance, depend on many simultaneous genetic and environmental factors. Similarly, in biotechnology, processes cannot be optimised by simply changing one component of a complex process. It is the networks of interaction that Systems Biology, the study of how biological networking produces function at the level of the cell, organ and body, focuses on. The idea is that once we know which networks are fired in health, and misfired in disease, we will know how to fix the consequences of misfires by treating networks rather than just component molecules.
The situation is much like that of hooliganism in a soccer stadium, explains Professor Hans Westerhoff, who splits his time between the Manchester Centre for Integrative Systems Biology, Manchester, U.K. and the Netherlands Institute for Systems Biology in Amsterdam and is a member of the ESF Task Force. If one person or molecule incites a person who then incites the next, then the whole crowd will misbehave. To deal with this, one should moderate the network, by making sure the individuals are too far apart to interact.
Systems Biology requires the integration of precise mathematical and experimental approaches, in ways and to extents that are new to mainstream Biology and Medicine. Europe leads in most of these individual approaches, but Systems Biology of any particular disease requires the simultaneous study of all the links in huge networks, and the best scientists for each of the different links are in different European countries.
For Europe to take its lead in the research of Systems Biology, the continent needs to establish an interactive network itself, meaning that nations should not independently address their own parts of the grand challenge of Systems Biology. A paradi
|Contact: Thomas Lau|
European Science Foundation