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Next generation bioscience centres awarded £27M

20 April 2006

Three new centres for integrative systems biology, representing an investment of £27M, have been announced today by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). This follows the successful launch of three centres last year. The new centres will be located at the Universities of Edinburgh, Nottingham and Oxford and will bring together biologists, mathematicians and computer scientists. The funding includes £4.8M from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). The host universities are also making considerable investments in the centres, devoting dedicated space and contributing research posts and facilities.

Systems biology means revolutionising the way bioscientists think and work by enabling multidisciplinary research combining theory, computer modelling and experiments. Integrative systems biology will make the outputs of biological research more useful and easier to apply to policy makers and industry, as well as providing completely new ways of understanding biological processes.

The new centres focus specifically on: dynamic biological systems, such as biological clocks, the nature and behaviour of plant roots and signalling pathways in bacteria and yeasts. They will also have an ‘outreach’ function, stimulating systems biology research across the whole of biological science research.

They will combine experimentation with computer simulations in order to process experimental results, design new experiments and to generate generic and predictive ‘solutions’ that are widely applicable. The centres will also produce a new generation of young scientists able to work at the interface between experimentation, modelling and theory outside the constraints of current disciplinary boundaries.

Professor Julia Goodfellow, BBSRC Chief Executive, said: “It is exciting to see these three new centres at Edinburgh, Nottingham and Oxford joining the three we launched last year, at Imperial College, Manchester and Newcastle. As the biological sciences become increasingly quantitative and predictive, it is important that we see modern bioscientists as researchers tackling an important biological question; be they computer scientists, mathematicians, statisticians or life scientists. These new centres, and the investment in integrative systems biology from BBSRC and EPSRC that they represent, reflect our vision of an increasingly multidisciplinary bioscience base where researchers work together, regardless of the name of the department to which they belong.”

University of Edinburgh

The University of Edinburgh is committed to a multidisciplinary approach that integrates the life sciences with the physical sciences. The Centre for Systems Biology at Edinburgh aims to model dynamic biological systems – focusing on RNA metabolism, the interferon pathway and circadian rhythms – and will bring together researchers from informatics, molecular plant sciences, medicine and cell and molecular biology among others.

Professor Andrew Millar, one of the Edinburgh research leaders commented: “The Centre for Systems Biology at Edinburgh faces the challenge of modelling complex and dynamic biological systems without restricting our focus to a single organism. Our approach will demonstrate the strength of systems biology by producing data and models of circadian rhythms, RNA metabolism and the interferon pathway that will be broadly applicable across species. We will be looking for general principles of biological organisation to help us understand and manipulate a wide range of biological processes.”

University of Nottingham

The Centre for Plant Integrative Biology (CPIB) at the University of Nottingham will develop a ‘virtual root’ which will serve as an exemplar for using Integrated Systems Biology to model multi-cellular systems. The Nottingham Centre will integrate advanced experimental and imaging approaches with innovative mathematical, engineering and computer science research in conjunction with Rothamsted Research and several international collaborators.

Professor Charlie Hodgman, who will direct CPIB, stated that: “The Nottingham Centre will develop approaches to model molecular, cellular, tissue and organ-level processes. Integrating these models will enable us to span these physical scales to produce a virtual root, thereby taking systems biology into the area of complex higher level systems. We ultimately aim to combine our root model with other international projects that model shoot development, leading to a generic computer model of a plant which will be used to advance crop and plant science. CPIB also plans to increase the UK’s general capability in this area though short courses, conferences and an inter-disciplinary doctoral training programme.”

University of Oxford

The Oxford Integrative Systems Biology Centre will tackle a range of biological problems concerning network pathways. A major interdisciplinary initiative, the centre involves members of the Departments of Biochemistry, Pathology, Chemistry, Mathematics, Statistics, Engineering and Computation. The research will look at the complex language which single cell organisms use to control their behaviour. The aim of the project is to develop robust predictive models of these highly complex models.

Professor Judy Armitage said: “The Oxford centre plans to use both theoretical and computational methods to explore complex biological networks. We are planning to develop models that will be integrated across the different levels of a system, from molecules up to the full network, and this will allow information to pass up and down the model levels.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

The total funding for the Centres for Integrative Systems Biology is £27M. £4.8M has been provided by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Systems Biology is a new approach to studying animals, plants and microbes that combines theory, computer modelling and experiments. It is revolutionising how bioscientists think and work; and will make the outputs of biological research more useful, and easier to use in industry and policymaking.

Traditionally, biologists have used observation and experiment to describe how specific processes work on a case by case basis, and used their understanding to design more experiments to test each new case. The key to systems biology is that researchers combine experimentation with computer simulations in order to process experimental results, design new experiments and to generate generic and predictive solutions that are widely applicable.

About BBSRC

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £380 million in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk

External contact

Ronald Kerr, Communications & Public Affairs, University of Edinburgh

tel: 0131 650 9547

Ruth Collier, Press and Information Office, University of Oxford

tel: 01865 280532

Emma Thorne, Public Affairs Office, University of Nottingham

tel: 0115 951 5793

Contact

Matt Goode, Head of External Relations

tel: 01793 413299