Applied Physics

Applied Physics and Systems Biology

Towards a cross-disciplinary complex systems center @ VUB

In this project, the Applied Physics research group (APHY) and different research groups from the department of biotechnology (DBIT) at VUB join forces: bringing together the internationally recognised meta¬genomics and microbial ecosystems expertise from DBIT on the one hand, and APHY’s core competence of applying techniques from nonlinear and collective dynamics to different fields of physics and engineering on the other hand, we aim at creating a cross-disciplinary research centre in Systems Biology at the VUB. Hereby, if successful, we aspire to be at the forefront of dynamical microbial community modelling worldwide.

Systems biology studies biological systems from a holistic point of view: it attempts to identify the relevant parts of a system, to unravel their relationships and then to model the behaviour of the entire system over time. Modelling here is a tool to increase the understanding of the system, to develop more directed experiments and finally to allow predictions. The big question to be answered is: “What is the function of all these interacting biological processes?”

Systems biology spans several spatial scales, ranging from bio-molecules (e.g. gene regulatory networks) via pathways and organisms to ecosystems. Key concepts of systems biology include emergence of properties at the system level that are absent from the parts, robustness to perturbations and modularity.

The study of whole biological systems typically necessitates an interdisciplinary team, since skills from a variety of fields like biology, physics, mathematics, engineering, (bio) informatics, etc. need to be brought together: to determine the crucial components of the system and their interactions from experiments, to develop mathematical models and solve these analytically and/or numerically, and then to carry out more experiments to validate the model predictions. Systems biology research is conducted at the VUB at different scales. The aim of this project is to bring this expertise together in one Systems Biology centre at the VUB and to add the interdisciplinary flavour that is necessary.