Swammerdam Institute for Life Sciences

Synthetic Systems Biology and Nuclear Organisation

Group leader prof. Hans Westerhoff

Living organisms only persist because their components are networking continuously at all levels of organisation, in both time and space. Systems Biology is the new exciting science aiming to discover the principles of Life that determine how functions emerge from the interactions. For the proper functions to emerge, the networking between molecules controlling life must be complex and to the point. In order to understand existing biological functioning and to design entirely new and exciting functions and Life, this group engages in the precise acquisition of dynamic molecular and structural information and the building of mathematical models.

Our mission is to understand and control cellular and molecular network behaviour (therapy and biotechnology). The regulation of gene expression includes epigenetic modifications, intra- and interchromosomal interactions and chromatin folding. Our goal is to comprehend how these mechanisms together control genome activity and how cells use them to regulate gene expression and thereby their behavior. We concentrate on the dynamics of chromatin structure in relation to gene expression and DNA repair. Our methodology involves a multi-disciplinary approach combining microscopic, molecular, biochemical and genetic analyses, and mathematical modeling.

Combining different model systems

The functional relation between gene regulation, nuclear organisation and chromatin structure is evolutionarily conserved in eukaryotic cells. Therefore, we employ different model organisms, including mammals (man, mouse) and plants (Arabidopsis, maize), each having specific advantages. Animal cells constitute an excellent system to analyse the behaviour of molecular machineries inside the nucleus of a living cell, while plant systems can be analysed more readily in a multicellular context (e.g. tissue, organ and whole organism) and by genetic approaches. Combining information from different model systems gives us unique insights into structure-function relationships of the eukaryotic genome in the nucleus.

Towards individualised medicine, based on genomics, nutritional and lifestyle information

The community-driven reconstruction of human metabolism (3 March 2013, Nature Biotechnology, nbt.2488) opens avenues towards the construction of a metabolic map for each human individual on the basis of her/his genome sequence. 

MORE INFORMATION: Virtual Biochemical Human - Individualized metabolic maps


Published by  Swammerdam Institute

27 October 2015