Systems biology is based on the computer modeling of biological systems, ranging from single cells up to complete organisms. As an emerging interdisciplinary science, it combines methods from molecular biology, engineering sciences, mathematics, information technology, and systems sciences. As well as obvious medical applications, systems biology has the potential to have a significant impact on agriculture and biotechnology.
‘Systems biology is a fantastically powerful approach and very versatile – as demonstrated by the range of projects funded through ERASYSBIO+,’ said Professor Douglas Kell, Chief Executive of the UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and member of the ERASYSBIO+ (‘The consolidation of systems biology research – stimulating the widespread adoption of systems approaches in biomedicine, biotechnology, and agri-food’) consortium.
A total of 85 research groups from 14 different countries are involved in the projects, which include C5SYS (‘Circadian and cell cycle clock systems in cancer’), SHIPREC (‘Living with uninvited guests comparing plant and animal responses to endocytic invasions’), FRIM (‘Fruit integrative Modeling’), and GRAPPLE (‘Iterative Modeling of gene regulatory interactions underlying stress, disease and ageing in C. elegans’).
‘These projects not only bring together disciplines, but also countries, and this is the sort of collaborative working that is becoming increasingly important. If we are to make the best use of our bioscience knowledge, expertise and facilities in the UK then we absolutely must share them with colleagues outside the UK and in other fields such as mathematics, computing, chemistry and physics,’ added Professor Kell.
The original ERASYSBIO (‘Towards a European Research Area for systems biology – a transnational funding initiative to support the convergence of life sciences with information technology and systems sciences’) ERA-NET ran from 2006 to 2009. It represented the first intense collaboration between the systems biology community and major funding agencies in several European countries. The initiative was an opportunity for agencies to coordinate their national research programmes in systems biology and to agree on a common agenda with joint activities.
Its successor, ERASYSBIO+, is an ERA-NET Plus action which provides additional EU financial support to facilitate joint calls for proposals between national and/or regional programs (compared to an ERA-NET action, which provides the framework for bringing together stakeholders).
The focus of the ERASYSBIO+ consortium for the next five years will be to implement transnational funding activities for systems biology, such as the 16 recently-launched projects. A total of $22.7 million (EUR 18.5M) in support of the research was provided by the partner countries themselves, while the EU contributed a further $6.7 million (EUR 5.5M).
ERASYSBIO+ is made up of 16 ministries and funding agencies from 13 countries. Partners of national programs include representatives from Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Spain and the UK. The objective of the ERA-NET scheme is to build the European Research Area by developing and strengthening the coordination of national and regional research programs.