Swammerdam Institute for Life Sciences

Systems Biology

Biological systems are extremely complex. They are characterized by a massive interplay between large amounts of compo­nents over wide range of length scales of nanometers to kilometers and time scales of picoseconds to years.

Un­til recently a sys­tems biology approach was almost impossi­ble because of this complex­ity. However, re­cent technological develop­ments allow a para­digm shift from a reduc­tionist approach focused on simplification towards an ap­proach that allows us to investigate and ultimately understand the system as a whole.

Key question

The key question in systems biology is how cells and organisms operate upon interaction with their external environment. Answering this question will generate generic knowledge about the dy­namics of complex systems and quantitative and explanatory computer models based on ex­perimental data that help to answer important issues such as:

  • how and to what extent are biological systems steered by external and to what extent by internal, structural processes;
  • how sensitive are biological systems for a perturbation of the exter­nal environment;
  • how much redundancy is present within biological systems to secure their stabil­ity;
  • how can biological systems be modified in a directed and predict­able fashion.

Unraveling

The unraveling of the dynamics of complex biological systems is feasi­ble with the help of new technological possibilities such as high throughput DNA sequencing, measurement of the activity of all genes of an organism (transcriptomics), analy­sis of proteins (proteomics) and analysis of all metabolites produced (metabolomics).

This data generation is then cou­pled to extensive data integration (bioinformatics), combined with cell biological methods such as advanced light micros­copy and supported by an enormous increase in computer power.

Explosion

These technological developments have created an explo­sion of information about living systems, ranging form cells to ecosystems, and give us close-to complete lists of all compo­nents and processes in organisms, including man. Never before in history was it possi­ble to study the overwhelming complexity of life in such detail. This will have a large influ­ence on many fields within the life sciences: health of hu­mans, animals and plants, food produc­tion, safety and security, bio-energy and biodiversity.

The Faculty of Science of the University of Amsterdam (UvA) has the ambition to play an impor­tant role in Systems Biology at the European as well as the global level. Therefore scien­tists of SILS and IBED, two research institutes of the Faculty, have joined forces in this field which is being supported financially by the Faculty of Science and the Ex­ecutive Commit­tee of the UvA since 2010.

Published by  Faculty of Science

1 May 2017