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ISBE - strategic report on new infrastructure requirements

Thanos, Dimitris; Kolyva, Sissy; Michalopoulos, Ioannis; Merika, Menie; Westerhoff, Hans; Steinkoetter, Jutta; Hoefer, Thomas; Mauer-Oberthuer, Angela; Sharpe, James; La Novere, Nicolas; Martins dos Santos, Vitor; Nielsen, Jens

Most biological processes involve network interactions between multiple genes, proteins and environmental variables. The complexity of these interactions in time and space is enormous, creating highly individual and variable responses. Attempting to unravel and understand the dynamics of these processes requires the collection and integration of experimentally-derived, quantitative, systems-wide data on the state, dynamics and variability of living cells, organs, organisms and populations. Handling and interpreting these diverse data sets requires the use of a variety and complex set of computational, mathematical and statistical modelling techniques and can only be achieved with a critical mass in both the experimental and quantitative sciences. Achieving this effectively to deliver the ultimate goal of understanding how biological function emerges from interacting biological components is the major challenge for modern biology and lies at the core of evolving systems approaches.

Systems Biology is at the current frontier of life sciences, representing a highly interdisciplinary approach for understanding biological complexity in health and disease.  In the last decades it has become clear that all life sciences relate to systems.  The focus of medicine today is the systematic and systemic treatment of all multifactorial diseases, as compared to traditional single molecule targeted approaches.  Therefore, new Systems Biology Infrastructures capable of supporting technology transfer as well as of translating scientific and medical discoveries into medical applications and other applied concepts will improve both our basic understanding of life and Medicine and enhance the economic potential of Europe.  ISBE is an integrated research infrastructure that will exploit existing synergies and will create new opportunities for efficient research coordination and collaboration in the field of Systems Biology.  ISBE will make available cutting-edge technologies in experimental and computational systems analysis to the wider community of European life scientists. Centres specialising in specific experimental and/or computational technologies will combine in a variety of operational clusters to create the backbone of the infrastructure. These centres will contribute to ISBE not just through specific projects, but also through the training of researchers - and by acting as hubs for stimulating further technology development. Additionally, the ISBE centres will catalyse the broader integration of the quantitative sciences of physics, mathematics and engineering with biology by providing a unique environment where scientists from all these disciplines meet, work together and educate each other.

 

ISBE will offer services and resources that are useful for all branches of the life sciences, independent of the type of organism or biological system studied. Systems biology creates a strong unifying and theory-based foundation in the life sciences. The different types of services include resources for stewardship and standardisation to make data, models and tools re-usable, modelling of biological systems based on integration of diverse data sets and the facilitation of model-compliant data generation.   

 

Regarding the quality of data suitable for systems biology work, it is noted that most existing biological data sets are unsuitable for systems biology modelling: they are incomplete, unannotated, or have been acquired for other purposes and not necessary under physiological conditions. Researchers active in the systems biology field generally require precise data obtained under defined experimental conditions.

To address this, ISBE will facilitate the generation of data suitable for systems biology through: (i) the development of community standards and best practices for maps, data, tools, models and SOPS; (ii) the provision of brokerage services to bring researchers in contact with external research infrastructures or institutes with experimental design and data generation capabilities in compliance with ISBE standards; and (iii) support in the experimental design phase and throughout the data generation, integration, modelling and model validation process, in order to obtain model-compliant data.

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