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What Is Systems Biology?

Sept. 13, 2007 | Of the many systems biology definitions floating about, ISB founder Lee Hood has the clearest and most encompassing view. There are two types of systems biology, he suggests: One sets out to decipher the biological function of molecular machines (e.g., proteasome); the second seeks to identify and decipher the function of biological networks and how they “capture, transmit, integrate, and disperse biological information.”

In this context, Hood argues modern systems biology requires six essential features: 

1.            Quantitative measurements for all types of biological information.

2.         Global measurements of dynamic changes in all genes, mRNAs, proteins, etc., across state changes.

3.            Computational and mathematical integration of different data types — DNA, RNA, protein interactions, etc. — to capture distinct types of environmental information.

4.            Dynamic measurements across developmental, physiological disease, or environmental exposure transitions.

5.            Utilization of carefully formulated systems perturbations.

6.            Integration of discovery-driven and hypothesis-driven (global or focused) measurements. The systems biology cycle: perturbation-measurement-model-hypothesis-perturbation-etc.  -- J.R.

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