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The Take-off of European Systems Biology

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Nascent European systems biology gets a turbo boost

Regardless of its many definitions, systems biology is strong and growing in Japan and the United States due to good organisation and funding, but in Europe has until now lagged due to lack of a competitive network. EU-funded researchers just levelled the playing field.

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Systems biology is a term thrown around these days by many with varied interpretations and numerous applications. Perhaps its main components are best identified by a simple look at the two words themselves. Biology obviously has to do with living systems. A systems-level approach then refers to an understanding of how all the parts of a complex biological system work together to form the whole and its functions, and – an important part of systems biology today – the system is also defined by a computational model. The project ‘The take-off of European systems biology’ (Eusysbio) was initiated to identify the strengths and weaknesses of European systems biology research and begin to form a network in the field. The goal was to stimulate research and funding and thus spur European systems biology to the forefront of research and technological development (RTD) activity. The consortium conducted a benchmarking survey that included both European status as well as that of other countries with active systems biology research centres with which the EU could collaborate, among them China and Russia. The reports identified training of young scientists as critical to network development and in particular cross-training of scientists. Cross-disciplinary expertise is quite common in other countries where, for example, biologists are trained in mathematics and physics to be able to develop complex computational models of cell membrane dynamics. The Eusysbio project also encouraged collaboration between academics and small businesses via workshops to spur rapid commercialisation of research results and thus enhance the competitiveness of the European economy. In addition, the project conducted two meetings which policymaking representatives from national funding agencies participated in to discuss models of cooperation and ways of increasing funding to systems biology research. The Eusysbio project successfully brought together European researchers, industry and funding bodies involved in systems biology work for fruitful interactions. With a turbo boost to the field in terms of knowledge, focus and funding and given the quality of human capital in the European research arena, the potential for significant outcomes in the near future is exciting indeed.

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