Skip to main content

Interdisciplinary training in systems biology

Final Activity Report Summary - SYSTEMS BIOLOGY (Interdisciplinary training in systems biology)

The overall goal of this project was to provide advanced training to early-stage researchers in systems biology. Systems biology aims at the determination and understanding of the properties / phenotypes that emerge through the interaction of biomolecules, genes, cells and tissues. Those properties cannot be predicted from those of the individual biomolecules (or other types of units). Systems biology uses a combination of experimental and mathematical approaches to achieve a deeper understanding of the function and operation of pathways, cells, organs and entire organisms. Systems biology is generally cited to have enormous potential in future biological research and in medicine for developing predictable treatment regimes.

This interdisciplinary approach to research field requires a generation of scientists trained in experimental and mathematical / computational biology, i.e. the so-called new biologists. Such scientists should ideally be able to perform experiments and generate mathematical models related to their research question, or at least they should understand how to combine modelling and experimentation.

The project has trained for a period of at least 36 months each five young researchers (PhD students) at each of its participating groups. In addition, sixteen young researchers received shorter training of several months at one of the partners. The total number of person / months reported was 246, which falls slightly short of the initially planned 300 person / months. The reasons for this incomplete spending were inability of some participating groups to recruit students for short-term stays as well as the premature death of one participating PI.

This project has made extensive use of resources and expertise from:
(1) Gothenburg: research groups at the University of Gothenburg (GU) and Chalmers University of Technology being part of the 'national research school for genomics and bioinformatics'. Teams that actively took part in training included those of S. Hohmann, T. Nyström (GU) as well as O. Nerman (Chalmers).
(2) Berlin: The graduate school 'dynamics and evolution of cellular and macromolecular processes' and the 'Berlin centre of genome based bioinformatics', with groups from the Humboldt University Berlin, the Max-Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics plus additional centres. Teams that actively took part in the project were those of R. Heinrich (who unfortunately deceased in fall 2006 half way into the project) and E. Klipp (MPI, now in the position previously hold by R. Heinrich).
(3) Amsterdam: The research school 'Biocentrum Amsterdam', a joint venture of the Universiteit van Amsterdam (the Swammerdam Institute for Life Sciences, Faculty of Science) and the Free University of Amsterdam. The group involved is headed by R. van Driel. The EST project contributed to structuring the field of systems biology in Europe such that its scientific and socio-economic potential can be used to address important goals of European policies in the health and life sciences.

With support from the European Commission (EC) the project could mobilise resources from national and regional funding bodies to make Europe an attractive place for pursuing a research carrier. Examples of important activities linked to the training project and where fellows participated and profited include: The international course on yeast systems biology held in 2005, 2007, 2008 (and continued). Dedicated courses for this programme in the years 2006, 2007 and 2008. The workshop 'Numbers to the models' held in Gothenburg in 2005 (150 participants). The international conference on systems biology held in Gothenburg 2008 (1 050 participants). Fellows also profited from numerous international activities driven by the participating groups, including EC-funded projects such as QUASI, AMPKIN and UNICELLSYS.