What is systems biology

Systems biology - modern research to decipher life

How are genes regulated? Why does cancer develop? Which organism produces the fuel of the future? Behind these questions are complex issues that classical biological methods can hardly do justice to. Anyone looking for solutions to such questions must understand the dynamics of a biological system as a whole. Systems biology, a pioneering research discipline in the life sciences, provides the right approach for this. It combines the most modern experimental methods with knowledge and technologies from mathematics, computer science, physics and engineering. In the interplay between laboratory tests and computer modeling, mathematical concepts are applied to biological systems. This makes it possible to make predictions about complex biological processes between cells, organs or entire organisms and thus, for example, to understand the origins of diseases.

Early funding projects on the subject of "Liver"

The Federal Ministry of Research has recognized the future potential of systems biology and supported it as part of the federal government's high-tech strategy. As early as 2004, it sponsored a pilot project called “HepatoSys” that was able to elucidate important metabolic pathways in the liver cells (hepatocytes). Building on this successful pilot project, the largest European research project in systems biology was then launched with the competence network “The Virtual Liver”. This aimed to describe and represent the metabolism, structure and function of the human liver in models. The results were promising, particularly in research into liver-associated metabolic diseases, liver cancer, and drug breakdown by the liver. Building on this, the “Research Network for Systems Medicine of the Liver - LiSyM” is currently promoting the elucidation of key processes in multifactorial liver diseases as part of the research and funding concept “e: Med”.

The way to the application

Many funding projects in the field of systems biology focus on biomedical research. This development can be traced back to projects of measures for medical systems biology (MedSys), cancer research (CancerSys) and aging research (GerontoSys), which were initiated by the ministry at an early stage. Systems medicine aims to apply this innovative research approach in everyday clinical practice. She combines the systems biology working method with the methods of medical genome research in order to achieve progress in the prevention and treatment of diseases.

In addition to biomedicine, systems biology also opens up new approaches to solving the pressing issues of world nutrition or the supply of raw materials and energy. Systems biology is also expected to make important contributions to the development of alternative methods to animal experiments. As the umbrella brand for systems biology research, the broadest range of content is covered by the e: Bio funding measure. In particular, Germany's leading position in international systems biology research is to be strengthened, systems biology to be established as a standard method in science and the bridge between academic research and industrial application to be built.

Development of a research infrastructure

In order to successfully establish systems biology, it is necessary to promote not only research projects but also sustainable infrastructure development. The Ministry therefore supports the establishment of centers that combine the necessary interdisciplinary expert knowledge and the most modern technologies under one roof. In addition, joint technology platforms are to be created, new methods developed and database infrastructures set up.

The need for well-trained young people is also growing. In the meantime, around 20 universities in Germany offer courses with a focus on systems biology. In addition, there are regular summer schools and internationally recognized conferences such as the "Systems Biology of Mammalian Cells (SBMC)". As part of the SBMC conference, the German young talent award "MTZ Award for Medical Systems Biology" is presented every two years. In addition, the ministry supports young academics in various funding measures in order to establish themselves as independent researchers. Quite a few of these scientists are now professors and are now involved in training young systems biologists themselves.

Networking and knowledge transfer

In addition to national support for systems biology, the ministry has also taken on the role of initiator and coordinator of European systems biology research. Numerous European activities have strengthened the cooperation between national and regional research funders across Europe and paved the way for an exchange across national borders. All of this has contributed to Germany being one of the front runners in this promising field of science.