The recently formed Program in Systems Biology is now at home in the new, state-of-the art Albert Sherman Center, where it exemplifies the interdisciplinary approach to answering deep, complex questions about science for which the Sherman Center was designed.
“Teamwork is incredibly important in systems biology,” said Marian Walhout, PhD, co-director of systems biology and professor of molecular medicine. “We need to move science forward faster and systems biology is definitely a part of that.”
Led by co-directors Job Dekker, PhD, professor of molecular medicine and a member of the Program in Gene Function and Expression, and Dr. Walhout, systems biology is focused on understanding biological processes at a systems level rather than at the level of individual molecules. Relationships between biomolecules are the focus of study, rather than individual genes or proteins.
“A systems biology approach to basic science is very similar to how a clinical scientist would approach a patient,” said Dr. Dekker. “You would look at the whole patient and not one particular aspect of them.”
To achieve this, systems biology capitalizes on and brings together, in an interdisciplinary environment, technological advances in the areas of genomics, high-throughput instrumentation, computational biology, math, statistics and bioinformatics. As large datasets are becoming more affordable and faster to produce because of advances in laboratory technology and experimental design, it grows more difficult to effectively make sense of these data without a systems way of thinking. Using mathematical models to incorporate such data, as well as generating new data with a systems framework in mind, is essential.
Because science has become so interdisciplinary, progress very much depends on a strong collaborative environment. “We really think of systems biology as the fifth discipline of biology along with genetics, cell biology, biochemistry and molecular biology,” said Walhout.
Learn more about the Program in Systems Biology in this UMassMedNow video: